Sunday Sermon: The Bond and Noose of Friendship

 

What would we do without friends?

 

Friendship is a vital thing and the Bible speaks of friendship in both the Old and New Testaments. The book of Proverbs alone, at least in the New International Version, has 14 verses devoted to the importance of friends and friendship.

 

Friendship can also be a difficult thing as well. Jealousy is a very potent acid which can eat away at a friendship. Gossip? Another one as well. Unreasonable expectations is another acid which can eat away at the bonds of friendship.

 

So to help us focus on just how dynamic, fluid, necessary, and sometimes inflammatory, friendship can be, lets watch to great friends, Ethel Mertz and Lucy Ricardo, sing about friendship…

 

… and act like friends sometimes do!

 

 

Did I mention unresolved conflict as well? And teens… we are talking adults here! You are asking us about friendship?

 

This classic clip I think serves as a picture of friendship that hits close to home.

 

 Friendship can be both a strong bond,

 

and in some situations, a noose, from which we can either grow or suffocate ourselves and another person.

 

Now you might be thinking, “Pastor Jim calling friendship a noose is pretty harsh.” Well, I wonder if some our teens might agree with me. For when some of them wrote about friendship in response to my query as to sermon subjects they would like addressed, the pain and harshness of friendship is quite clear in their thinking.

 

 “How much trust is too much? (In other people.)”

 

“Anger with other people.”

 

“Friendship. Friends that betray.”

 

There are some deep emotions here that cannot be dismissed. We adults, I think, have the same questions and feelings as well.

 

Two stories from scripture came to mind this past week as I pondered these thoughts about friendship. The first one illustrates, tragically, the idea of friendship as a noose because of betrayal.  And betrayal is one of the greatest threats to friendship that exists.

 

It is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and our text is found in John 13:21-30:

 

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

 

 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.  One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.  Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

 

 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

 

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.  As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

 

One of the things I noticed several years ago as I read the gospels is that Jesus repeats over the course of His ministry that the Son of Man is going to be betrayed and that He seems to get a bit clearer about what that means each time He says it until we get to this passage and He gets very specific:

 

“One of you is going to betray me…”

 

It gets their attention very quickly as noted in verse 22:

 

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.  

 

It also outs Judas as the betrayer.

 

… dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.  As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

 

It is one of the most tragic stories in the Bible.

 

Jesus knows that betrayal will happen and that someone will betray Him as noted in Matthew 26:24

 

The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

 

Judas was the one who betrayed but it could have been any one of the disciples. Peter, who denied knowing Him, could have betrayed Him. Matthew could have. John could have. Mary Magdalene could have betrayed Him.

 

Betrayal is a noose in any relationship – marriage, family, work, even the church. It hangs us. It hangs a relationship, a marriage, a friendship. It takes the life out of them.

 

Why did Judas betray Jesus? I am not talking about the fulfillment of scripture reason. What pushed Judas to betray Jesus?

 

We really don’t know and I do not think that Judas was born and lived only to be Jesus’ betrayer. But one reason given for his betrayal was that Judas, and perhaps some of the other disciples as well, had an expectation that Jesus would finally exert His power and overthrow the Roman government and restore Israel to independent nation status. Perhaps Judas thought that if Jesus would be arrested that He would finally react and do something.

 

It did not happen because Jesus was not on earth to provide a political solution to the human condition but a spiritual one. He was here to offer a deeper solution- a solution to change the human heart and condition in way that no political, economic, or any other kind of solution could.

 

But He was betrayed. He personally experienced what it was like to be stabbed in the back by someone He had personally called to follow Him.

 

The betrayal resulted in His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But it also resulted in Judas’ tragic death.

 

Have you ever been betrayed?

 

Have you betrayed someone else?

 

I think that friendships and relationships are hung with several noose (nooses?).

One is called envy.

A second is called jealousy.

A third is called unrealistic expectations.

A fourth is called resentment.

 

When these are operating in our hearts, attitudes, and our actions, we are on the path of seeing our friendships hang and die. Anger takes root and trust vanishes. And I truly believe that unless we choose to stop and ask God’s help to staying stopped with all of these, we are destined to hang our friendship and be hung as well.

 

But…

 

But…

 

We can also have, and do have, great joy and in life in our friendships and relationships don’t we?

 

When Facebook opened up to the general public about 7 or 8 years ago, I was truly shocked by the “friending” which took place. People I never thought I would see, let alone hear from again, began popping up in my network.

 

But for all the wonderful connections and re-connections that have been made still does not substitute, in my opinion, for face to face communication, interaction, and bonding.

 

We are made to be social. Yes, some of us do not require as many friends in our lives and we are fine with a small circle of them. Others of us, the more the merrier. But we are made for meaningful interaction with others.

 

One of the greatest stories of friendship in the Bible is that of Jonathon and David that we find in the book of I Samuel. We read in 1 Samuel 20:16 and17 these words:

 

So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

 

This friendship is a bond between two un equals in one regard. Jonathan was, if you will, the crown prince of Israel. His father Saul was the King. David was a warrior in the Israelite army.

 

But by this point in the story, Saul has lost favor with God who selects David to be the next king. And the result is a frayed and violent relationship between Saul and David with Jonathan in the middle.

 

Jonathan, because of his father’s disobedience, will never become king. David will. So why would Jonathan befriend David? Why be nice to someone who will take the place that was to be yours?

 

How can a friendship exist, thrive even, in such an atmosphere of jealousy, mistrust, and fear?

 

Jonathan even puts himself at great risk to support and protect David as we read in places such as 1 Samuel 20:33 when in a rage Saul throws a spear at his own son, who is defending David. Why would he want to do that for a political rival?

 

As I re-read this segment this past week I was stuck at how much Jonathan intentionally chose to be friends with David even though he had nothing to gain as much as David had to lose. This commitment; this choice to develop and invest in a friendship that was a serious risk to both men, says a great deal about Jonathan’s character.

 

Do such relationships, can such friendship exist today? I think that this level of friendship might be hard to imagine today. We live in a culture in which competition and winning at any cost is paramount. It is a “me first,” you second attitude.

 

What advice would Jonathon get today about this friendship?

“What are you thinking?

“Dude, get rid of him! He’s gonna’ take what is rightfully yours!”

“What do you hope to gain by befriending this guy?”

 

(Do you ever think that David asked Jonathon, “Why are you doing this for me?”)

 

Jonathan’s friendship with David is not based on political expediency but on a deeper set of values and commitments that transcend the power issues that envelope both of them. It is not “What can you do for me David?” It’s “What can I do for you David.”

 

This kind of friendship makes life go! This kind of friendship is empowering. This kind of friendship, I believe, creates room for God to work.

 

I believe that we desire this kind of friendship.

 

This is the bond of friendship at its best.

 

This friendship benefited David more that it did Jonathan in the following ways.

It gave David important support when he needed it.

It gave David a safe place.

It gave David a model to use when he became king and relied on his advisers and officers.

 

 Good friendship, in which trust is built and sustained, empowers others, develops and enriches the other to become the person God would have them become. Good friendship helps us grow up and become responsible people.

 

I also believe that friendship is a key element in the great commission. Read the book of Acts and notice how friendship helped the gospel move further and further out into the world. The partnerships which develop between Paul and others enable effective ministry to be done.

 

So what does this mean for us this week?

 

Three things are needed for a friendship to be a bond and not a noose.

 

The first thing is a steady commitment. Friendship thrives on a day in day out decision to give as much as take in a friendship. As my mom used to say to me, “You have to be a friend to get a friend.”

 

Without a steady commitment to a friendship, a friendship will struggle to stay afloat.

 

Decide, and keep deciding to be a friend.

 

The second thing is forgiveness.

 

Do you have a friendship that needs you to forgive them in order to let go of the anger and resentment that has kept you all tied up for as long as it has?

 

Do you need to finally let someone of the hook?

 

But Pastor Jim… you don’t…

 

I may not understand but God does and He knows the inner turmoil you are still in because you have not let go and determined to forgive the other.

 

Life is too short for resentments, or as they are often called, grudges. God is not honored by them.

 

Is there a friendship that you would like to have back again but because of a conflict forgiveness and resolution have not been done?

 

The third and final thing, related to the second thing, is appropriately dealing with your anger.

 

Some anger comes from fear.

 

Some anger comes from jealousy. I want what you have and I am angry because I don’t have it.

 

Some anger comes from simple self-centeredness that is a result of “I am not getting my way and I am angry because I am not.”

 

This kind of anger is an acid which eats away at our souls and our relationships. Nothing good comes out of living in such anger. It has to be surrendered to God and let go of.

 

I felt betrayed many years ago by someone who was my friend. It took me a while to forgive him and no longer feel resentment and anger toward him which did not wish him harm.

 

But it took me awhile to finally realize that I had betrayed some people by the harsh and mean words I had spoken about them. And my anger came back on me and I could not blame anyone else for my actions, my attitude, and my words.

 

Now, my friendship with this person will never be what it once was. He lives somewhere else and it has been nearly 20 years since I have seen him. But I no longer hate him and I pray that he is following the Lord.

 

I conclude on an up note. (Is that a word, upnote?)

 

Get out a piece of paper and pen or pencil or your phone and get ready to complete an exercise.

 

Ready?

 

Here we go…

 

  1. Who are the five most important friendships to you right now? List their names.
  2. Quickly write down one reason for each of the five why their friendship matters to you.
  3. When was the last time you took the time to specifically tell them why their friendship means so much to you?
  4. Finally, what have you done lately for them to help them be a better person and person of faith?

 

 Friends come and friends go,     but a true friend sticks by you like family

Proverbs 18:24 (MSG)

 

We close this segment of worship with a time for silent prayer and reflection.

 

 

 

My Review of Mohana Rajakumar’s The Opposite of Hate

Set in the turbulence of Southeast Asia in the early 1970’s and continuing into the early 1980’s as the main characters adjust to the realities of living in America, Mohana Rajakumar’s newest novel The Opposite of Hate is a well written tale of the challenges and opportunities immigrants from that part of the world in the aftermath of American involvement in that part of the world.

The novel begins in late 1973 in a changing Laos where Seng, married to flight attendant Qui, a well-educated Vietnamese who supports the Communist regime, is navigating the increasingly turbulent change in Laos as the Pathet Lao grew in power and influence as family members are being arrested and taken to “re-education camps.” When Qui, who returns to flying after giving birth to their child, is killed in an Air America airplane crash, Seng makes the decision, based on his known association with the USAID, to flee into Thailand. But as he makes his plans to leave, a quickly arranged marriage to Neela is made, and he crosses to Thailand as a newly married man. And together then begin a journey of hardship with slivers of hope which eventually gets them to America and a new life that eventually starts to come apart.

The result is a novel which takes the reader back to a turbulent time in history and shows in a very close up and personal way the effects of war and war’s upheaval on people. The characters are strong and real and Rajakumar clearly sketches the emotional intensity of refugees and immigrants.

This novel caught my interest right away and I was immediately drawn into the story.

I rate The Opposite of Hate an “outstanding” read.

Note: I received an e-copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

My Review of Hans Finsel and Rick Hicks’ Launch Your Encore

We believe that our final act might just be our greatest contribution.

 

 

22504649With more and more “baby boomers” moving toward the “retirement age” of 65, they are pushing back on this traditional age and even the concept of retirement.  With the passion they have expressed throughout their life, boomers are now looking at “retirement” as a time of refocusing and re-launching into a second season of serving and making a difference.

In their new book, Launch Your Encore: Finding Adventure and Purpose Later in Life, (Baker Books 2015) Hans Finzel and Rick Hicks document this redefinition of retirement in their own lives and that of others from age 60 to past age 90! The result is a new set of terms used to define (re-define) this new era of a second season and a second career. Those terms are elderlescence and the 60 to 80 window.

Launch Your Encore is divided into four sections: The Challenge in which Finzel and Hicks layout the challenges and opportunity for those approaching the 60 to 80 window both occupationally, developmentally, and spiritually; The Choices in which the authors focus in on the core issue of reinventing yourself for life after a first career; The Stories in which three individuals and two couples share how they have navigated the transition into redefining their lives and contributions; The Plan where tools are shared and a very helpful chapter, “Walking through the “Land Between,” helps the reader to understand the emotional dynamics of this major life transition.

The result is a wonderful, honest, practical, and helpful book designed for those who are nearing or are at the beginning of the 60 to 80 window and a reorienting of their life and work. It does not minimize the challenges and the uncertainties of the age regarding health issues as well as financial and the spiritual aspects of this season of life.

I like this book for a variety of reasons – it offers an honest assessment of the challenges and opportunities of life after a first career, it contains a variety of tools and practices to help a reader who is seeking to launch their encore, and since I am less than three years away from age 60, the issues and themes addressed in this book are helpful and inspirational.

I rate this book a “great” read.

Note: I received a copy of this book via the Baker Books Blogger program in exchange for a review of it. I was not required to write a positive review.

O Grow Up!

 

 

Luke 2:52

A couple of different “threads,” if you will, come together this morning in my thinking and in this message:

The first thread is Blaire’s dedication. She is not going to stay this size for long. She will grow into a young woman that Matt will walk down the aisle. (Talk about some perspective!) And this morning she has been dedicated to the Lord in the hope that she will grow into a woman of God.

 The other thread is that this message is the start of series based on requests of our teens that were given to me back in January. And they, too, are growing up!

We have watched them grow up and they are no longer the little kids we remember them as. They have grown up. They are growing up. They are supposed to.

And as I think about this issue of growing up I have known, and continue to know, younger people whose maturity and wisdom amazes me and inspires me.

Our launching text for this morning (we will come back to it from time to time) is a known text. It is a text which notes the need, the goal, and the necessity of growing up even for our savior, Jesus Christ.

The verse is Luke 2:52:

In the New Living Translation as:

Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.

In the Message we read it as:

And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.

And in the New International Version as:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

And then I think that we need to note that a period of time passes between this verse, the end of chapter 2, and the start of chapter 3.

Some have suggested nearly 18 years have passed before we begin to read about the adult Jesus and there has been lots of speculation what He did during those 18 years.

But this is clear:

Jesus grew up.

He was supposed to grow up and Luke notes that He grew up in wisdom and stature and in His relationships with God and people.

We are supposed to grow up as well. And growing up is a challenge.

And growing in our faith is a challenge as well.

And this is where we launch off of this verse and spend this morning talking about faith;

what it really means;

why growing in our faith is important

why faith is sometimes hard

how to grow in our faith

A poem, shared with me as well as permission to share it with you, focuses on this challenge of faith

I sit in the pew

And I listen

But do I hear?

 

Sundays pass

Week by week

But do I see?

 

The words

Surround

Waiting

 

For an opening

To engulf

Me.

 

To spread

His word

 

To find me

My heart

With his love.

 

Unconditional love.

 

Maybe someday

I’ll listen and

Finally hear.

By Kat Kistler ©

 

Back in January, two of our teens wrote down these thoughts in reply to my asking them for topics they want to hear addressed and I think that it is about this issue of faith this morning.

One wrote:

How to find a little bit of Jesus every day

Another wrote

Faith.

I struggle

To believe

Sometimes.

A lot actually.

It’s difficult.

 

So… did Jesus grow up during those unrecorded years full of firm faith and trust in God or did He struggle with faith as well?

What accounts for the remarkable change in the young boy who scared his parents to death in chapter two because he stayed behind to sit with the teachers of faith to the young man baptized by John the Baptist in the middle of chapter three?

But Pastor Jim, Jesus was also God!  He had to grow up! He couldn’t doubt or not believe!

A good point!  But as noted in Matthew four, he was tempted, deeply tempted in a very taxing situation.  Some of us are at our wits end when we cannot eat after midnight because of a medical test or procedure.  But to go without food for 40 days?  Could you do that? Jesus was in a very weak state when Satan came to Him in the wilderness and tempted Him to give up.

Faith in Christ is sometimes hard.  Maybe it was very easy for Jesus to believe, to grow in faith. But it certainly was not easy to do so in the wilderness and it definitely was not in the garden of Gethsemane as faced betrayal, arrest, trial, and death by crucifixion.

So how do we learn to believe well?  How do we find a bit of Jesus every day?  How do we hear and respond?  How do we develop a good faith that helps us through each day when there are so many things that offers a “better” alternative?

One important thing we must do in regards to faith is to choose, and keep choosing to believe in Christ. Every.single.day.

Faith is more than a set of feelings. Faith is something deeper, more intentional. It must come from deeper within us. It must come from our will, our decision to say “Yes” to God and believe in Him.

We turn now for a few moments to what has been called The Faith Chapter – Hebrews 11. And this chapter begins with a verse we need to memorize and reflect on, on a regular basis.

Here is how it is translated in the Message:

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.   

The King James has it this way:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The New Living Translation has it as:

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

Trust is a vital element to faith. We trust that our pews are going to hold us up as we sit in them even though we cannot see the interaction between the various parts working to make that happen.

We trust that our cars are going to be reliable as it now performs thousands of functions per second without us being able to see them all.

But what does this issue of trust have to do with our faith – your faith- my faith?

Hebrews 11:6 says this

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (NLT)

It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. (The MSG)

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (NIV)

An important question that we must ask, and answer, regarding faith is this one:

“Do I believe that the God of the Bible exists and that He cares about me and what is happening to me?”

How you answer that question affects whether or not you choose to believe that God rewards you with Himself as you choose to believe in Him. For if you don’t believe that the God of the Bible exists and wants to personally relate to you, how is faith of any help at all?

“Pastor Jim, believing is hard sometimes.”

I know. I know it is.

But how about trusting in God? How hard is that?

I find that trusting God is one of the hardest things to do when it comes to faith. It’s not that I don’t believe the “anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists” part of Hebrews 11:6. I do believe that God exists.

I have trouble with the second part from time to time the, “that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him,” part of this verse. This is where the trust factor of faith comes in. This is where I think faith gets hard for us.

We have just celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. But when we read the accounts of that early morning miracle of Christ coming back to life there is a large disbelief expressed.

Mark records this disbelief as we read in Mark 16:12 and 13:

Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

Luke records it too, in chapter 24:10 and 11:

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.  But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

How would you feel if someone you loved had died and then you were told a short time later that they were still alive? You would want proof wouldn’t you? “I want to see them.”

So did Thomas as John notes in chapter 20:24-29

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

We are more like Thomas that perhaps we want to admit. But I do not think that Jesus’ tone of voice to Thomas was one of scolding but more like a teacher making an honest statement to a student along the lines of “aim higher.”

So if the faith of the disciples were stretched beyond limit on that wonderful resurrection morning, our faith is going to be stretched as well.

And in this aiming higher we are reminded that faith requires of us, as we have already read,

the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen;

[the] assurance about things we cannot see.

Doubt and trust are key issues in the Bible. And we understand that because one of the first things we have to deal with when a relationship goes sour is what?

Whether or not we can trust that person again for if we have trouble trusting that person, then our faith in them is going to be inhibited. And our relationship with them is stalled.

And there are people, young and old, rich and poor, and any other category you might be thinking of today, who have lost trust in God because life did not go the way they thought it might…

The scholarship goes to someone else

The college said no to your application for admission

The break up comes when you did not see it coming

The job promotion is shelved because of office politics

Death comes instead of healing

The choice to drink and drive causes heartache

And we get angry, even angry with God (though we do not want to admit to it).

So trust is a vital part of faith.

Do you trust God?

Do you

Have the confidence that what you hope for will actually happen?

Have the assurance about things we cannot see?

Believe that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him?

So what does mean for us this coming week?

And what does it mean for us when life is hard, maddening, sad, angry, lonely, and the like?

And what does mean for us when the God we think is good and loving and gracious allows hurtful, evil, and awful things to happen in this world and to me?

Here are some suggestions that I pray will help us grow in our faith;

First, get acquainted with Hebrews 11 and do so in this manner:

Read the chapter once a day for 30 days.

Then, search find and read the stories of the people mentioned in this chapter.

Then, write out what you are learning from their stories which applies to your own.

For example, Joseph is mentioned in verse 22

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

There is more to Joseph’s story that making sure that his bones were buried back in the Promised Land. Joseph’s story includes family betrayal, what we could call today human trafficking, dealing with a false accusation of rape, and when his brothers, who sold him into slavery because they hated him show up many years later looking for food Joseph faces the choice to either allow his family to starve or save them. I think that Joseph’s story is the story of many people these days. What would you do if you were Joseph? Read his story in Genesis 37 and then 39-47.

Second, read the Bible daily.

I have given you a starting point with Hebrews 11. God reveals Himself through scripture and our faith can be strengthened as we prayerfully and carefully read it.

Third, is pray regularly.

Work to have a prayer life that is on-going and throughout the day. Pray without ceasing, we told in the Bible. Prayer helps us in our faith, it is our primary communication path to the Lord.

Fourth, come here weekly.

Worship the Lord. Focus on Him during this hour. Seek Him. Faith is aided by worship.

Fifth, and this is an important one, fellowship with your fellow believers.

And by fellowship I mean more than eating with them. Share your pain, your joys, your dreams, your discoveries, about God and life. Risk having those helpful conversations.

And invite others into the youth group who are searching, too. It matters. It is helpful.

Yes faith is hard at times. Trusting God is hard at times.

But it is worth it! I have never, ever, regretted that January Sunday when I said “Yes” to God .

Jesus did these things as well. It aided Him in His journey and ministry here on earth.

We are going to conclude this service and this worship with a time of prayer for our teens.

Girls, I am going to ask you to come and stand on this side of the sanctuary. Guys, I am going to ask you to come and stand on this side of the sanctuary.

Now I would like for some women to come and pray for the girls. And men, please come and pray for the guys.

Once we have spent some time in prayer, I will conclude our worship service with prayer.

Amen

My Caregiving Journey… Two Years Later

Two years ago this morning I was talking to a nurse in my hometown a 150 miles and three hours away about my mom who had just been admitted because of what turned out to be several serious cardiac issues that had to be addressed.

That was the beginning of a four month journey that I call Chapter 1 in my care giving journey.

In two different hospitals, two different rehab centers, in two different states; mom, in her late 80’s underwent two serious surgeries and a long rehab process.

Once she got out (and she walked out of the second rehab center, with a walker of course) her world had forever changed. The area she had called home for nearly seven decades, coming to in the midst of World War 2 and a day after graduating from High School in the south, was gone.

She had painfully, and slowly, traversed that 150 plus miles and 3 hours between us, in two ambulances, 0n a couple of OR tables, several hospital and rehab rooms and my car as I drove her to her new home five minutes from my house and family.

As I write these words, I again realize just how much she had to deal with in that time frame.

Chapter 2 began on that Thursday in July when we brought her home to her “condo” (as she calls it) and helped her begin to get acquainted with living in a new town and state and under a different set of health circumstances.

It was also a re-setting of our relationship as I had left for college almost 37 years earlier and lived in four different states during that time. We got re-acquainted as I was no longer the 18 year old and she was no longer the, uh… well…uh – well you get the idea.

But it was also time she was healing and falling and healing and falling until, nearly 18 months later, an ER doctor became an advocate for her and her meds were reduced and the falling stopped as mom was able to get her balance again. Trips to the ER were almost becoming routine.

Chapter 3 began with this end of the falling and the discovering of a small spot of cancer. She had had cancer nine years earlier, pre cardiac surgery and all of that, and she was nearly a decade younger, too! But it had been taken care of, successfully, without post operative treatment.

Surgery has come and gone with this newly discovered cancer and the surgeon is pleased and again, for which we are all grateful, no chemo or radiation is necessary. But now we add an oncologist to her growing medical team list.

This is perhaps now what I should call chapter 4 as I write these words. I don’t know.

But what I do know that I am grateful and thankful for the help and strength of my God in walking with all of us through the past two years; for the wisdom and support of my wife (soon to be one of 32 years!); the support of the congregation I serve; the support of family and friends; and the growing camaraderie of fellow care givers.

I hope that when the time comes, I will be able to offer further reflection on this journey of my life as well with the hope it is of help to others.

Caregiving is hard. But I am glad that I have been able to walk alongside a woman who definitely walked with me through childhood and adolescence…and into today as well.

(I shared some back in 2013 about the time she came out of her four month journey of several things that I found to be necessary as an only child caregiver. Click on this link to read it, http://wp.me/pfQ8z-2py  )

 

Jesus Didn’t

Three verses are the starting point for this morning:

 

First is Matthew 28:19-20

 

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Second is Acts 1:8

 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

And I continue with this introductory line of thought this morning:

 

Jesus didn’t.

 

Jesus didn’t what Pastor Jim?

 

Jesus didn’t … die and rise again just because He wanted to… He did so to offer us forgiveness of our sins and because He wanted to redeem the human race.

 

Jesus didn’t … leave the disciples high and dry and on their own… He gave them a major, life-long assignment… be my witnesses…everywhere

 

Jesus didn’t … give the disciples (and us) this task, this co-mission of going and making disciples… without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to help us be witnesses and prepare the way in our listening to and talking with others.

 

Mackenzie has reminded us of this mission again this morning and why it is important to get some vital training. Thanks Kenzie!

 

This mission, this co-mission, that we are joining Jesus in and on is central to our faith and lives as Christians. For when we confess our sins and profess faith in Christ, we automatically join this mission, this co-mission. It is not an option.

 

This mission, this co-mission is not just for the paid professionals to make happen. Every believer is on this co-mission. All who are born again through the blood of Jesus Christ are automatically on board!

 

And this co-mission is our mission as this church. We are here not to just come to church but to go out there into our community and, as The Message so vividly translates Matthew 28:19

 

Go out and train everyone you meet, far and wide, in this way of life…

 

Will Mancini says this about our mission as the church:

 

“We don’t invent from scratch” our mission we “articulate it from scripture.”

In other words, we already have our mission, given to us by Christ before His return to heaven, in place so we don’t need to invent one.

 

Let’s take a few moments to personalize our scripture texts and this idea of mission this morning. Get out a pen or pencil and a piece of paper or use your bulletin. Or, get out your Smartphone and go to your note taking app. I have some questions for us to reflect on.

 

 Do you remember how and when you came to faith in Christ? Do you remember that moment? Some do and some do not but it is important that we can recall the time when we first believed in Christ and trusted in Him and asked Him to forgive us of our sins. Take a moment to write down that moment.

 

Now, do you remember who were your witnesses of faith in Christ were back then?

 

Was it a pastor?

A parent?

A Sunday School teacher?

A family member?

A friend?

A camp counselor?

 

Take a moment to write down their names. How did they witness to you? Was it what they said or did or both?

 

I have often shared my personal salvation experience with you.  I was not alone when I confessed my sins and made my profession of faith that day. My pastor was there. He helped me articulate my confession and profession. He had been a witness through his ministry.

 

I have no doubt that my paternal grandmother, who happened to be present the day I became a Christian, was a witness for I am convinced to this day that when she prayed, God truly stopped what He was doing and listened.

 

Another pastor’s wife played a role in my coming to faith as she taught my Sunday School class. I remember her saying that she never laid another book on top of her Bible so that it kept her from quickly picking it up. That has stuck with me all these years.

 

My parents certainly were witnesses to me through their regular church attendance and service and their own faith in Christ expressed in various ways.

 

So who were the witnesses who, along with the Holy Spirit, pointed the way to faith in Christ for you?

 

All of us have a role in helping people come to faith in Christ. We are giving testimony, we are saying by the lives we live – Christ is in me. Our co-mission is helping people come to faith in Christ is very, very clear. But it is also our co-mission with Jesus. But we need to remember the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. He had to come first before the mission began.

 

Do you remember when the Holy Spirit began to speak to you about your need for Christ and His forgiveness as He revealed the love, grace, and mercy of Christ to you?

 

The Holy Spirit showed up that Sunday morning and, as I have said, I knew, I just knew I needed God in my life. But it was a welcoming (and convicting) presence. It drew me to God.

 

The Holy Spirit is going to show up because He needs to show up. That’s why Jesus told the disciples before and after His death and resurrection about the Holy Spirit. Our awakening, conversion, salvation experience of being born again cannot happen without the Holy Spirit convicting power.

 

So what does all of this mean for us this week?

 

We need to remember that prayer must be a vital and strategic part of our co-mission.

 

We must keep praying for those we love, work with, and live with. Prayer helps lay the groundwork for and provides the guidance to talk about Christ. The Holy Spirit, as we pray, works and moves in both us and those He is loving on to come to Him.

 

So, be bold this week: pray for an opportunity to talk this week with someone about the Lord.

 

Evangelism is a process not just a “closing the deal” approach.  I think that is offensive to people and to God We listen and we pray as much as we talk.

 

There have been many people who have contributed to our personal lives of faith and to our corporate life of faith as well. They have been witnesses of faith to us and others.

 

In turn, each of us, are contributors/witnesses of faith as well in both our personal lives and in our corporate life of faith. We are being watched, individually and congregationally, as to our faith in Christ.

 

What are people seeing in us, individually, and as this church? How is God being honored by our witness?

 

Assess your witness. How are you showing Christ in your life at school, at work, at home, in the community?

 

Finally, ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and to empower you to serve the Lord everywhere you go.

 

Let us be thankful for those whose witness influenced us and let us resolve to do the same.

 

Amen

My Review of Gary Thomas’ A Life Long Love: What if Marriage is More Than Just Staying Together?

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My first encounter with Gary Thomas was in 2000 when I read the prequel to this book, Sacred Marriage, which I underlined and notated and have revisited several times.

With A Life Long Love: What is Marriage is More Than Just Staying Together? Thomas continues to bring a positive, helpful, and hopeful view of marriage that is refreshing and needed today. For instead of seeing marriage as an all fulfilling romantic relationship, Thomas suggests that we see marriage as one way to encourage and empower our spouse through, as well as in, marriage. I also think that in paying attention to the book’s title, A Life Long Love we can understand that this is a book not just about marriage but about developing the kind of love that sustains a marriage.

Divided into three sections- the magnificent obsession, growing together, and the journey toward love – Thomas offers a view of marriage as a rich and dynamic relationship which empowers and blesses the other instead of being focused on one’s own needs and wants.

Alongside good Biblical content that strongly affirms women as vital contributors to marriage as well as asking men to step up and be empowering and supporting husbands, Thomas offers the reader many helpful concepts and suggestions to deepen one’s marriage in a helpful and grace filled tone. Helpful reflection questions at the end of each chapter provide couples with the opportunity to discuss what they have been reading. Thomas also has composed a strong statement against Domestic Violence in marriage in his appendix.

What I liked about this book is its hope filled message that any marriage can turn around with a willingness to seek to affirm and bless their spouse. I discovered both inspiration and information in this book for my own marriage!

There is unabashed Christian teaching in this book but it is a grace filled teaching that seeks to help both husband and wives give the most in their marriage with the goal of having a greater love across the years as well as a deeper and more fulfilling marriage.

I rate this book an “outstanding” read!

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.