My Review of Kathryn Mannix’s With The End in Mind

The trouble is, whereas birth, love and even bereavement are widely discussed, death itself has become increasingly taboo.

 Introduction, page 1

Since April 2013,  when my now 94 year old mother was diagnosed with cardiac issues, I have been her caregiver. And one of the ways I engage in self-care is signing into Twitter on Tuesday afternoon’s for a “tweetchat” with other caregivers called “carechat.”

During a recent carechat, the issue about quality of life came up and Dr Mannix’s book was suggested as a good read on the subject. I am glad that it was suggested.

Titled With the End in Mind: Dying, Death, and Wisdom in An Age of Denial (2018, Little, Brown, and Company) Dr Mannix, a UK physician who specializes in Palliative Care and a therapist trained in the CBT (Cognative Behavioral Therapy), has given us a very helpful and practical book through the stories of patients and families she has dealt with during her medical career.

The stories make this book and through them the spectrum of emotions faced by both patients, family and friends, and medical personnel themselves, are addressed. Personally, I will not forget the stories of Holly, Alex, Sally, Vronny, Max, Walter, Dan, and Mrs Liang for they well illustrate Dr Mannix’s kaleidoscope of people who are in their final moments and days of life, all of whom express the fears and uncertainty that death brings up.

This is a very “user-friendly” (if I may use that term) book regarding a subject and a reality that we all face. It is well-written, compassionate, and insightful.

As a son and caregiver, a husband and a father, and as a clergyperson who has watched death and walked with those who remain, I really appreciated this book.

I recommended its usage in ministerial training as well as the helping professions in general – including medicine. And I recommend to everyone as a way to helpfully talk about death and dying.

Thank you Dr Mannix…

I rated this book five stars on Goodreads.

Note: I read and reviewed this book as noted above without any expectation of a review or a positive review.

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Making All Things New

Revelation 21:1-5

I conclude my current sermon series Verses that I Base My Faith On with some from the last book of the Bible and the next to the last chapter of that book, Revelation 21:1-5

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.

There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

I have grown to love this passage because it is a passage of hope and I often read it at funerals either during the service or at the graveside. And it is in a book, the final book of the Bible, which has created much debate and tension within the Church over the years.

The late Leon Morris has written about the book of Revelation:

“…[it] is by common consent one of the most difficult of all the books of the Bible. It is full of strange symbolism…Modern readers find it strange…for many modern [readers] Revelation remains a closed book. Except for one or two passages…it remains largely unread…We recognize that it is part of the Canon of Scripture and therefore we accord it formal recognition. But we remain uneasy and we do not make use of it. We turn our backs on its mysteries and luxuriate in John’s Gospel or the Epistle to the Romans.

This is a great pity. This book has much to teach us…the translator is carried into another dimension…into the Ever-ever land of God’s eternal values and judgments.”

I used to be afraid of this book…but not anymore because it does, as Morris has so clearly said now many years ago, “the translator is carried into another dimension…into the Ever-ever land of God’s eternal values and judgments.” And I would add us…the readers are carried as well.

This book was written during the time the church was in trouble and Morris says why.

“It was sent to a little, persecuted, frustrated church, one which did not know what to make of the situation in which it found itself. John writes to meet the need of that church…

John makes his point that the future belongs not to the Roman Emperor, nor to any human potentate or ecclesiastic [or church leader]. It belongs to no man or group of men, but only to Christ, that Christ who was crucified for the salvation of mankind.

He it is who can open the book of human destiny. All men, and all men’s destiny, rest with Him… This peep behind the scenes brings to John’s readers [and us, I believe] a glimpse of the realities of power. Real power rests with Christ, the Lion. The appearances may be against it for the present. But ultimately reality is not dependent on present appearances.”

The church of Jesus Christ is being challenged by the great Roman empire. Christians are being tortured and killed. Rome’s problems are blamed on these strange people.

But where is the Roman Empire today?

Gone! Only the ruins of that empire remain today.

And where is the church of Jesus Christ?

Here! Still in existence! Still here! Still alive!

Praise be to God!

We read in chapter one and verses 9 through 11:

I was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus. It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

Not only is the church in a difficult situation, John is in a difficult situation!

But the Lord shows up! And He tells John “Write in a book everything you see!” And John does and it.is.incredible!

The language of this book of scripture is very different that the other books. Fantastic images that are almost science fiction in nature are sketched by a man, “worshipping in the Spirit,” the Holy Spirit and describing the world really of the Spirit.

Eventually John’s writing of what he saw in those moments comes to our main text.

What has led up to those moments is the painting of the battle between good and evil in the world with the result that evil is finally defeated and that good, God is triumphant!

There are two statements which I want to focus on in this passage before we again remember Christ’s death and resurrection with the Lord’s Supper.

The first statement is a description of what will happen then.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

Many believers get excited about heaven. We are awaiting that day when we shall be in heaven.

Many of us say something like, “I cannot wait to be reunited with so and so in heaven!” Or, “I want to ask Moses a question about the crossing of the Red Sea!”

But this heaven is new. It is different because John says, “for the first heaven…had passed away…”

What makes it new? I really don’t know but John indicates that heaven which he sees “in the Spirit” is a new one.

There is something else he says that I get fascinated by, namely, a new earth because “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…”

What does John mean here?

Again, we really don’t know what he means!

But what he says, taken at face value, is that there a new earth as well as a new heaven. The old earth, is gone…

A transformation of some kind will take place!

The way things are now… will not be then!

It will be different!

It will be better!

And because, I think that we can safely interpret, there is a new heaven and a new earth, there will be no more “…death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

An interesting thought…the old order of things passes away.

For the Christians then, I believe that the Lord was saying, this government, this empire, the Roman Empire will eventually be gone…forever. The trials and testings and torture will cease to exist!

For us today, all of the issues we have in our society, including our society, will end. It will be no longer!

God will make everything right…

The second statement is about what is going on now…

I am making everything new!”

To me, this is a statement of hope to the Christians who first heard this message.

A message of hope in the midst of a very difficult existence.

This, God is presently doing, in our life time…

It may not seem like it but He is doing it right now.

He is making you and I new.

He is making this world new.

I know that it does not seem like, but He is.

What is right

What is just

Is in the process of occurring…as we speak

And the Lord’s rightness and justice is rooted in who He is!

Paul gets at this in 1 Corinthians 13:12:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

This is a passage that has given me a long view of life. That the difficulties, the temptations, the failures, the pressure…one day will end…and everything will be right!

What God is saying to a very embattled church is that one day, I will make all things right…in the meantime keep being faithful to me.

Don’t give up!

Keep being faithful to the Lord!

Keep working to help people come to faith in Him!

Keep being biblically just people…

Keep being biblically loving people…

Political empires come and go…

Powerful people come and go…

God will one day set the world straight (and there is going be, I think, a lot of surprises when that day comes) because of what He did on the cross!

So, as we prepare to receive communion, let’s keep looking ahead believing that there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

But in the meantime…in the meantime…

let us be people of faith, hope, and love.

Amen

Our Biggest Cheerleader

Hebrews 4:14-16

At this year’s New York City Marathon, runner Robby Ketchell walked across the finish line carrying his son Wyatt in his arms.

Now Ketchell did not run the entire marathon with Wyatt in his arms. Just the last few hundred yards.

Photo copyright to Elizabeth Griffin

Wyatt was born in March of this year with Down’s Syndrome. I’ll let Ketchell tell the story in his own words now:

I wanted a way to honor him and everyone else affected by the syndrome. So I decided to run New York in his honor, to raise funds for others with the same circumstances.

Last year, I was running 50 to 70 miles a week to train for trail races. But this year, I was fighting to find the time for 35 miles a week consistently. When we were in the hospital, there was no time for that. And to be honest, I showed up on the start line injured, with plantar fasciitis in both feet.

By mile 8 I knew I was in trouble. At mile 17 I had to make a decision: Back off my 7:30 pace enough to finish in 3:40, or continue to go all in and see what happens. From 17 to 20, I knew it was over, but I just wanted to break myself. My mechanics were so bad. I was slapping the pavement, but I was doing 7:30s and getting it done. At mile 20ish, I got down on my knees. My legs felt like they were about to break. That was it. I knew I could walk it in at that point, but I had wanted to give it my all.

I always wanted to carry Wyatt across the finish line, but I knew if I was going to break 3:21, it was going to be close and there wouldn’t be enough time for that. After mile 20, when I was hiking it in, I texted my wife to tell her what happened and that I was coming for Wyatt. She had to fight to get near the finish line because the marathon is so big, about 50,000 competitors and so many spectators. She handed him over to me right at mile 26. And then I carried him across the line.

Usually when you run a marathon, you put your name on your bib so everyone will cheer for you. I had put Wyatt’s name on mine so people were screaming for Wyatt the whole time. That made things emotional from mile 1.

When I was walking with him toward the finish line, everyone was still cheering his name. I told everyone, “This is Wyatt,” and that made it so special.

What a great story! And it leads me to ask this question:

 

Who is your biggest cheerleader?

Who is the person that encourages you and lifts you up when you are down? Who listens patiently to you and allows you to express your doubts and fears and then lets you know you still matter?

I trust we all have someone because we need someone to be our cheerleader!

One passage in the book of Hebrews that I have leaned on over the years is from Hebrews 4:14-16:

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.

 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Jesus is our biggest cheerleader, if you will.

Yes, He is our Lord and Savior.

Yes He is the Son of God.

But, when we are discouraged, when we are tired from doing the right thing, when life wears us down and we hear the voices that tell us we don’t matter, and to give up, Jesus is there cheering us on!

And when we fail, when we do not measure up to God’s standard, when we give in to our sinful tendencies and habits, Jesus is still there ready to help us get back up and move forward in life.

But Pastor, when we fail, the people who are rooting us on, turn on us or walk away shaking their heads…

Ah, you mean the fans!

Fans are fickle.

We have a lot of fans but fewer cheerleaders.

Jesus is more to us than a cheerleader to be sure, but He is NOT a fan. He is more than that!

As I again read this passage this past week, the following phrases stood out to me:

let us hold firmly to what we believe

The writer of Hebrews tells his audience, and us today something very important.

Hang on firmly to what you believe. Keep believe the truth about what you have been taught and experienced about God’s mercy, love, power, and grace! Do not let go of that.

When we have those difficult moments, it seems we have no choice in their outcome. Or, if we do have a choice, we don’t like any of them!

But we do have a choice. We always have a choice.

This is the basic choice:

Do I keep believing in what I believe God, through the Bible, says about me? That I am loved, that I matter, that I am worthy of His grace and salvation? Or do I quit believing that right now?

Even here we fumble the ball sometimes don’t we? But the Lord knows that and He keeps coming alongside us anyway!

[He] understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin

Jesus, because He faced the same testings, the same temptations as we do, understands our weaknesses, He understands when we are subject to failing, to sinning… but He never gave into them…ever.

Now this can bother us because we want to have someone who understands what it is like to deal with the habits or hang ups which trips us up or it can encourage us to know that there is a God who knows what it is like to be human and still succeed, albeit imperfectly .

And I choose the encourage side because Jesus shows us that we can resist temptations and not give into our weaknesses! We can say, “No!” because He said, “No!”

It can also help encourage us because we believe in and serve a God who understood back then and understands today what it means to be human. Jesus truly, truly knows the challenges of living a God honoring life.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.

What holds us back from boldly coming to the throne of our gracious God?

If we believe that Jesus understands the temptations we face, why is it so hard to practice this part of our passage?

Shame…

Genesis 3:7 reminds us that shame drives us away, into hiding, because it is a word which says I AM flawed…not I HAVE flaws…but I AM flawed…

At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

Adam and Eve, after disobeying the Lord, went and hid…because they were naked… exposed! Found out! They had a conscience!

Guilt

I think what Ryan Fan recently wrote about the difference between guilt and shame helps us here:

“…guilt implies that you can come back and repent and seek forgiveness for your actions. Shame implies that you can’t be redeemed or saved, and even beyond a spiritual context, shame is much more problematic for any person to feel….”

(read the full article at https://www.theodysseyonline.com/guilt-vs-shame)

 

Everyone of us is redeemable, Jesus died so that our guilt and our shame can be removed!

Guilt is saying I HAVE flaws, I HAVE sinned, I HAVE made a mistake…

Both are present in the Garden…

And guilt is also a barrier to boldly coming to the throne of God for grace and mercy. It holds us back.

It does not have to!

This passage of scripture has helped me, and continues to help me, understand that the feelings of shame I have experienced and still experience from time to time, cannot keep me, as much as the Devil would like for them to, from boldly coming to the throne of God for help.

It also reminds me that Jesus is on my side! He is for me! He wants me to live victoriously and that is a struggle for me from time to time even today because Satan likes to throw my past up in my face and say, “You are not really forgiven! Look at this!”

But I am, when I confess my sins, as John wrote “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

Do you believe this to be true for you this day?

It is!

We are going to conclude our service with a wonderful hymn which includes these lines:

Calvary covers it all

My past with its sin and stain

My guilt and despair

Jesus took on Him there

And Calvary covers it all

Jesus took it all!

We live with the reality of what St Paul wrote about in Romans 7

I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it…

Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is the reality we live in…but because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, it does not have to continue to be that way!

What does this mean for us this week?

We can begin to change for the better, one moment at a time when we come boldly to the throne and receive God’s grace and mercy, freely available to us, that takes our sins with their guilt and shame and helps us live victoriously!

Do you want it? Then come to the Lord and He will give it to you!

Amen

What are you thinking?

Romans 12:1-2

A common refrain often heard around the house and around the workplace is:

What were they thinking?

For example, just about every parent I know has faced these situations or something similar

In between our stifling laughs (or hold in our “righteous indignation”), we ask, with a straight face as much as possible, “What are you doing?” a variation of the “What are you thinking?” question.

And I have no doubt that there have been, are, and continue to be scenes at work or around the house like this.

Enough said…

We have moments when we find ourselves, asking ourselves, “What was I thinking?”

Why did I just say that?

What possessed me to do that?

Thinking is a part of our faith…we cannot have a vibrant faith without thinking and our mind is a battleground that we need to acknowledge on a daily basis as a place where Christ must have His way.

The Bible has this to say about our minds and our thinking:

Romans 8:5-6

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.

Psalm 26:2

Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;

Colossians 3:2

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Jeremiah 31:33

This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

Isaiah 23:6

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

Joyce Meyer in her book Battlefield of the Mind says this:

“The mind should be kept peaceful. As the prophet Isaiah tells us, when the mind is stayed on the right things, it will be at rest…A calm and undisturbed mind and heart are the life and health of the body, but envy, jealousy, and wrath are like rottenness of the bones. Proverbs 14:30.”

And this brings me to a Bible text which has helped me focus on spiritual maturity – that we are to be more than saved, we are to change for the better, that we are to be renewed, changed in how we act as well as how we live. And we need to renewed, changed in how we think.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

While my focus is on this part of the passage:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

We need to understand the context of the statement.

And this passage begins with THAT word I have always emphasized as being important when it appears:

THEREFORE!

For this reason, or for that reason…

I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

I believe that this particular THEREFORE needs to be briefly at looked from say, 30,000 feet!

WHAT? Pastor, there you go again, off on one of your tangents that I have trouble following you on! Can’t you stay at sea level?

The Sunday School class that I facilitate in this sanctuary is using a wonderful overview of scripture called The Bible from 30,000 feet by Skip Heitzig. We are still traveling through the Old Testament right now and will be in Romans sometime next year.

Here is the outline of Romans he offers and I think that is helpful in understanding the context of what Paul is saying in this verse:

The Wrath of God (Romans 1:18 – 3:20)

The Grace of God (Romans 3:21 – 8:39)

The Plan of God (Romans 9 – 11)

The Will of God (Romans 12 – 15)

Paul’s Greetings and Blessings (Romans 16)

This chapter begins the segment called the Will of God and I think that a question, written by the late FF Bruce in his study of Romans underscores why this chapter begins with THEREFORE…

“In view of all that God has accomplished for His people in Christ, how should His people live?”

Paul has spent 11 chapters laying out to the Christians in Rome what Jesus Christ has done. Now he gets to some specifics.

And there are two ways, according to our passage, how His people, to quote Bruce, should live.

offer your bodies as a living sacrifice

be transformed by the renewing of your mind

If we are going to be followers of Jesus, born again Christians, we need to change the way we live and we need to change the way we think and in both cases, the change comes as we surrender our life, our will, and our minds to God and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into the person and people He wants us to become.

Paul’s original audience understood the image of sacrifice because it was a common practice of worship either through the Law of Moses or the pagan worship practices that were everywhere in those days. But Paul changes up the image – a living sacrifice, a sacrifice of one’s self, one’s agenda, one’s life – for the greater purpose of God’s life for us.

Perhaps a question some of us here this morning are asking is “What do I have to give up to become a Christian?”

The biggest surrender we have to give up is what the Bible calls sin.

At a basic level our sin is our moral imperfection expressed in our habits, our actions, our words, and our attitudes. We are deeply flawed creatures and if we have trouble believing this, I simply ask us to look around at the hate and fear running through our nation and world these days.

Resentment, anger, rage, lust, jealousy, envy, fear, greed, pride, self-sufficiency, self-pity, laziness, gossip, and the like are sins. We express them in our habits, our actions, words, and attitudes and they cause us problems. We are all guilty of them.

And what is required for them to stop running our lives into the ground, is our willingness to admit them to God and ask for Him to take them away and help us begin to live without them. This is called confession and repentance.

But it does not stop there. To simply ask for forgiveness of our sins is great and wonderful but there is more to it than that.

We have to start living for God by asking Him to help us change our ways – our actions, habits, words, and two things that I believe are very much implied in the second statement I want us to not just remember but begin to practice. (And God wants us, to do as well!) Changing the way we think and our attitudes,

How?

by being transformed by the renewing of [our minds]

These verses have been important to me and my faith for many years for one reason: I still do battle with sin…on a daily basis. And I find that the hardest battle takes place up here – in my head, my mind.

There is where my thoughts and my attitudes are tossed back and forth between doing what is right and doing what is wrong even though many times my behavior does not follow them, I am still not living right because wrong attitudes and thoughts fill my mind and heart with evil and it is just as disobedient to the Lord as actually acting out my disobedience.

I like how the New Living Translation puts verse 2:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

A key part of spiritual maturity and growth as a follower of Jesus is in the transformation of our mind…we need to let God change the way we think.

Are we willing to to that?

As we prepare for communion, I ask each of us to give serious thought this morning about our thoughts. Let us ask ourselves this question:

How am I honoring God with my mind?

And let us bring ALL of ourselves – heart, mind, body, and soul to Jesus this morning and let Him have it all!

Amen

God’s Elevator Pitch?

How many here know what an elevator pitch is?

Here is a humorous look at what an elevator pitch is not and is:

What is an elevator pitch? It is:

a succinct and persuasive sales pitch

It assumes that you can tell in 30 seconds or less what you could bring to the organization or why your product is the best product for the person you are talking to on the elevator.

In John chapter 3 we read this verse

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

These are Jesus’ words during a deep and important conversation with a man named Nicodemus who, John notes, was as a member of the Jewish ruling council.

We read in verse 2 that Nicodemus “came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Here is a key leader of the Jewish ruling council who was an assembly of twenty-three or seventy-one rabbis appointed to sit as a tribunal in every city in the ancient Land of Israel.

He was part of the political leadership of that day! He was a person of great power and influence. He was part of the opposition to Jesus!

(He also helped take Jesus’ body down off the cross.)

Why did he come to Jesus at night?

Perhaps, he came without his group’s knowledge or even permission.

Perhaps to offer Jesus a deal. The use of the ‘we’ pronoun indicates that he could have come as a representative to make this incredible statement that he, and his group, would never make in public. And he could have, if he were even coming on his own, used the word ‘we’ as well.

Notice what he says…it is a powerful statement…

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

We know that you are teacher who has come from God…you could not do what you are doing if God was not with you.

What an admission! Wow! His opponents knew that He had come from God because of what He had been doing for people.

Jesus’s response

Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Say what?

Where did that come from?

Maybe it was because Nicodemus recognized Him as a great teacher and not the Messiah, the Son of God. So, Jesus turns the conversation in a direction that He wants it to go because there is something more important that He wants Nicodemus to understand, believe, and accept.

Or maybe, Jesus was affirming Nicodemus’ statement as a step in the right direction. Maybe He was affirming an initial step of faith by Nicodemus in Himself because such a recognition was evidence of some experience of being ‘born again.’

Was this Jesus’ elevator pitch for our faith?

Maybe…maybe not!

Let’s continue to look at the conversation…

How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

This is deep stuff…

And Nicodemus and Jesus are talking, I believe, on two different levels about something which Jesus mentions right off in this response to Nicodemus’ question.

Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

I have read and studied and preached on this passage many times and when I read this segment again this past week it hit me… the background issue for this conversation is the kingdom of God.

For Nicodemus and his group, their birthright, their heritage is the kingdom of God. Their nation is the kingdom of God! Keeping the rules and rituals, which Jesus would increasingly rail against, is how you enter the kingdom of God.

But Jesus, “No it isn’t.”

no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Entry into the kingdom of God, Jesus says, is a matter of baptism and work of the Holy Spirit, whom you cannot control. The Spirit moves and acts, as He wills, not as we will.

But Nicodemus still does not get it.

How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

And Jesus simply asks, “You are Israel’s teacher and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.”

You people… that’s an often-triggering thing to say! do not accept our testimony.

The word translated here as testimony means

to be a witness, to bear witness, i.e. to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something, or that he knows it because taught by divine revelation or inspiration

Very simply Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, “you do not believe that what we have experienced is true.” There has been a divine revelation, divine, Godly, inspirational experiences experienced by the disciples and they are not being believed.

And then Jesus goes on to offer Nicodemus a very familiar image because he would have read it many times in the course of his life:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

This is a reference to Numbers 21, when God sends poisonous snakes into the midst of the Israelites because, once again, they are complaining about the food. And, as it frequently happened, they came running to Moses and pleaded with him to speak to God and take the snakes away.

The result is the creation of a bronze pole with a snake on it, at the Lord’s direction, for the people to look up and live…just He, Jesus, the Son of Man would be lifted up.

Then Jesus gets clear, very clear, about what God is truly up to:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. And I must add verse 17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Jesus makes clear what God is up to. He makes clear what the Kingdom of God is about. The forgiveness and love of God for every human being.

Is this an elevator pitch? It is simple. It is direct.

But it is not an elevator pitch. It is not a sales pitch.

It is a simple and profound statement about our faith. It is a succinct and Biblical summary of what our faith is truly about.

This is why both verse 16 AND verse 17 are part of the verses which I have built my faith on. They are reminders of God’s love for me and that He came to forgive me, out of love, not hate, but love, that I can have eternal life.

Do you believe these two verses?

Have they made a difference in your lives?

If they have, how so?

That’s what people want to know.

If and when you are with someone and the subject turns to religion and you are asked what do you believe and why, what you would say…in 30 seconds?

Amen

A Comforting God

In keeping with my reputation of “never knowing what you are going to do on Sunday morning, Pastor Jim,” I ask this question for your reflection.

Which God shows up at a funeral service?

Is it a God of divine judgment? One who flashes with white hot anger at sin and evil? One who hunts us down to severely punish us? One who will speak a divine NO one day to those who have rejected Him?

Or, is it a God of hope, of love, of comfort? One who grieves with those are grieving and they need to know that God still cares and that He is present with them right now?

What kind of God does our world need today?

Does our world need a God who is nice and kind to everybody? Many think so today. They say, “God loves us all, as we are and those who say God is angry and hard and difficult, well they are hard to live with and we don’t want that kind of God.”

Does our world need a God who is hellfire and brimstone? Many think so today. They say, “People need to face reality and that if they don’t change their ways, they will die and go to hell! Hell is a real place and we are headed either to heaven or hell!”

Does our world need a God somewhere in between to these two viewpoints?

I remind us that the Bible speak of both God’s love and God’s wrath. So both groups are correct in many ways.

But do we not often forget that the Lord is both loving and just; holy and demanding and merciful and forgiving and that we tend to drift toward one side or the other.

So we need a God who is not one sided. We need a God who is wholly and fully God.

And one of the places where these two views of God often come together is at a funeral!

Today’s passage is the Psalm that I read at just about every funeral service I have done over the years.

Psalm 23

I am going to read this familiar and helpful Psalm from two different versions of the Bible one which is familiar and one which perhaps you have not heard from before:

First we hear it from the King James Version:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Then here it is from The Common English Bible

The Lord is my shepherd.

I lack nothing.

He lets me rest in grassy meadows;

he leads me to restful waters;

he keeps me alive.

He guides me in proper paths

for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no danger because you are with me.

Your rod and your staff—

they protect me.

You set a table for me

right in front of my enemies.

You bathe my head in oil;

my cup is so full it spills over!

Yes, goodness and faithful love

will pursue me all the days of my life,

and I will live in the Lord’s house

as long as I live.

I suggest this morning that we need a comforting God who corrects us when we need correcting and one who comforts us when we need comforting.

What does that look like from this Psalm?

First let me re-read what the Psalmist wrote in verse one

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.

A couple of things here…

This best known Psalm begins with a declarative statement.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Just as I noted in last week’s message on Genesis 1:1, this oft memorized verse begins with a statement from the writer.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He does not ask if the Lord is his/her shepherd, he says that the Lord IS my shepherd.

Now, who is the Lord?

Last week in Genesis we learned that the name for God (and the ancient Israelites had several names for God) was Elohim.

Is this the same name used for God here in Psalm 23:1

No it is not.

One translation of the Lord in this verse is Jehovah which is an alternative to the most common name for God in the Old Testament, Yahweh. However, it was considered so holy that to speak of God with this name was considered a dangerous thing to do!

Now you might be thinking this morning, Pastor can we just keep simple and say God is David’s shepherd?

We can, but I remind us this morning that the Israelites used different names for God because they saw and experienced Him in different ways. Here is a list, from the website blueletterbible.org that lists some of the names used in the Old Testament:

copyright blueletterbible.org

 

What then does David call the Lord?

My shepherd”

Now David calls the Lord, in other psalms,

his rock – Psalm 18:2

his fortress – Psalm 46:7

his deliverer – Psalm 70:5

(18:2 has all three!)

But here he calls God his shepherd and the late Derek Kidner wrote that David uses “the most comprehensive and intimate metaphor yet encountered in the Psalms.” And given David’s background, I think that it would be wholly understandable to see God in this way.

Now the question comes up, “Why did David call the Lord my SHEPHERD here? What was going on in David’s life, if anything, to warrant the use of this term?”

Note the beginning of Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest.

And Psalm 24 begins

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,

the world, and all who live in it;

for he founded it on the seas

and established it on the waters.

We don’t know what was going on in David’s life when he wrote this Psalms, but we know that the imagery David uses is familiar to him as a shepherd, his role in the family as noted when his father sends for him at the request of the prophet Samuel who is seeking a new king for Israel from David’s family as directed by the Lord and as noted in 1 Samuel 16:10-13

Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

Now what does it mean to shepherd?

Shepherd can also mean “tender” as in tend to.

Will you tend to the stove while I set the dinner table?

To tend is to pay attention to, to care for.

The Lord is the one who pays attention to me, who tends to me, who cares for me.

How does he tend to David?

The rest of the Psalm tells us!

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,

(Remember as we walk through this Psalm that David is using a metaphor here but one that he is very familiar with!)

Sheep graze, correct? They eat grass.

Who would want to eat brown grass?

Notice in the picture, taken in Israel, that the green grass is scattered long the hill side. That is where the shepherd will take the sheep.

God feeds us. And he feeds us not just food for our bodies but also feeds our minds our souls.

He nourishes us, if we let Him!

he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

A good shepherd does not put his flock in jeopardy. He wants to deliver healthy and whole sheep to market – not just the meat but also the wool. Notice the various flocks and paths they can travel.

 

 

copyright: http://www.egrc.net/

The website where I found this photo included this commentary:

“….the scene before us was atypical of the images we hold in our mind when we read passages like Psalm 23. Admit it! You probably don’t envision “green pastures” that look like sand dunes (where’s the green?)…

Or 1000’s of “paths” (the horizontal stripes you can barely see) that crisscross the hills (which ones are the “right paths”?). Whatever your Sunday School pictures showed you about Psalm 23, this is the image you should have firmly in your mind! And when you get the right image, you “get” the Psalm.”

Recall with me for a moment the pleading of Old Testament figures such as Moses who appealed to God’s reputation when God was displeased with the Israelites as noted in Exodus 32:11-14

But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?

Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’?

Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.

Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ ”

Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened

God has a reputation to maintain as good shepherd should. And a good shepherd will not lead his sheep astray. He will keep them on the right path. God’s path is the right path for us.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

We have heard this verse for years read as Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

But notice the word ‘walk.’ The Psalmist is not running he is walking. The shepherd walks with the sheep through the valleys. Valleys that get tight and dangerous.

The rod of the shepherd is his defensive weapon against attackers. It can also be used to corral wayward sheep. The staff is crooked and allows the shepherd to grab hold of the sheep and rescue them.

The Lord walks with us through the dark places, the dark moments/days of life. And we do not have to fear because He defends us and rescues us!

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Now some scholars say that the shepherd metaphor has run its course and the tone of the psalm moves to a more personal focus.

And perhaps this verse, verse five, gives us a glimpse into what was going on in David’s life at the time. He was surrounded by enemies, perhaps King Saul, his biggest rival, was hunting him.

But God provides food and substance for him in the presence of his enemies. He also provides encouragement and fellowship which strengthens and blesses him.

 is also a remnant of the shepherding metaphor here because of little pests such as the blow fly.

Blow flies like sheep. The land on sheep and lay their eggs which then begin to infest into the sheep’s skin and can make them sick and die.

There are also the cuts and scraps which sheep encounter that demand the shepherds attention as well as the pests which drive the sheep crazy, like mosquitoes and gnats. The oil provides healing and protection for all of these things. (Tea oil is often used today to protect against blowfly infestation.)

Finally,

surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

David’s final words are words of hope and expectation in the Lord because of what the Lord has already done for him!

And God’s actions of provision, comfort, protection, discipline, and presence, serves as a reminder to David that God’s goodness, mercy, and love will be with him throughout life and that he can and will dwell in the house of the Lord forever…God’s eternal presence.

I am grateful to the Lord that He walks with me each day of life. Good days and bad days. Every day.

He is my shepherd and He is yours as well. This Psalm reminds me of a God who both comforts and corrects!

Let us hear His voice and follow Him and be blessed by Him and be a blessing to others because we have been blessed as well!

Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Review of Lauren Clark’s The World Breaks Everyone

Published 2018 Camella Press

Olivia Jacobs, a 17 year old still grieving the loss of her mother and who is planning to runaway with her boyfriend, finds herself on the opening night of her celebrity father’s restaurant running for her life after hearing an altercation which results in her father’s abduction and attempts on her life and those she loves. The result is a thriller of a novel by Lauren Clark The World Breaks Everyone.

Fast paced and an addictive read (and one of the few books I have read through as quickly as possible) Clark does a wonderful job of weaving the stories of loss, hope, and love into not just Olivia’s life but that of her father’s girlfriend, Kate, who has her own past to deal with as well. And the twists and turns in the narrative kept this reader guessing as to was responsible for the attack on Olivia and her dad as well as the attempts on Olivia’s life.

And who was behind the attack and pursuit and why?

You will have to buy the book or get it from your local library and find out!

I love this novel…it kept my attention and my reading…the characters, the plot, the pace…all worthy of your time and attention.

I gave this novel a five star rating on Goodreads.

Note: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.