The Persistence of Prayer

Luke 11:5-10

One of my favorite writers on the subject AND practice of prayer is Edward McKendree Bounds, or EM Bounds as he is more commonly known.

He wrote a series of books on prayer that is, in my opinion, second to none.

Regarding the persistence of prayer, he wrote this:

“Our praying needs to be pressed and pursued with an energy that never tires, a persistency which will not be denied, and a courage that never fails.”

Jesus spoke of the same thing in Luke 11:5-10 that we will examine this morning as part of this brief series on prayer, please join me in reading from your Bibles or the screen as I read Luke 11:5-10:

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’

And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’

I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

What is Jesus saying to His audience back then and to us today with this story about a persistent neighbor? Or should we say pesky neighbor? Or… persistent neighbor?

One of the Bibles I often turn to when studying a passage like this one is, The Serendipity Study Bible for Groups. This one was published in 1989. One of the things about this Study Bible is that there are group study guides throughout the entire Bible and there is one for this passage and this segment.

The study for this segment includes this multiple-choice question:

The point of the parable about the neighbors is that:

a. We give up too soon when we petition God

b. We should refuse to take “no” for an answer

c. God is as responsive as our reluctant neighbor

d. God gives us what we want not in exasperation, but in joy

e. From God, the answer is always “yes”

f. We should keep praying, not matter what the answer is

Study it for a moment and then be prepared to take a poll on what you think the correct answer is.

Okay how many here this morning say a…b…c…d…e…f?

I think a, c, d and f

Why? Because of what Jesus says in verses 9 and 10.

Let’s spend a few moments in this passage:

“Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’

There is a need here. In this case, the need for bread. You have come to a friend’s home, a neighbor’s home, at an inconvenient hour no less to get some bread.

You have none. Your guest is hungry. There is no Wal-Mart or Speedway open to go and buy bread. If there were, you would not have to bother with your neighbor. You would go to the store and buy some bread!

(By the way) When was the last time you asked a neighbor for some bread?

We don’t ask our neighbors anymore for such things, do we? We just go to the store or we go to someone’s house that we do know, even if it is across town, right?

Who then is our neighbor today?

Let’s move on…

And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’

This neighbor is probably someone you know quite well. You’ve borrowed from them before and they have borrowed from you, too.

Perhaps bread, perhaps a power tool, or even a camel, I mean a car.

This is not a total stranger. This is your neighbor or friend. You know them…well.

But the neighbor will say that he (or she) can’t help you. She can’t get out of bed. The children will be disturbed (or the NASCAR race is on and they are dealing with another overtime finish and you want to see who wrecks who on the last lap.)

How many times have we had experiences when we must call two or three or four people we know and ask for help with something or to borrow something and they are unable to help for some good reasons?

I remember wrecking a car, on a Labor Day Monday and Susan could not find anyone to come and get me! We only had one car. Finally, she found someone, like the 6th or 7th person, and they came and got me.

A need creates a demand for help.

I need help with the dishes.

I need help cleaning the bathroom.

I need help cleaning out the cat box!

And everybody disappears for some reason!

I need help with caring for my mom.

I need help with transportation.

I need a ride!

I need a good meal.

I need someone to listen to me.

Needs can get inconvenient. Until they are your needs. Until someone shows up and you have nothing to offer them.

What is it that is requested by the neighbor, the friend?

Bread.

Think about that for a moment… Bread.

According to biblegateway.com the word bread is mentioned a total of 255 times in the Bible

177 times in the Old Testament and 78 times in the New Testament

Genesis 18:6 Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Genesis 40:16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread.

Exodus 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

Matthew 4:3 and 4 “The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Luke 11:3 “Give us each day our daily bread.”

Luke 22:19 “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Bread has a very important significance in scripture. Jesus used bread as a symbol for His body during the Last Supper He ate with the disciples before His arrest, death, and praise God, His resurrection.

He also used it as a metaphor for Himself in places like John 6 where He refers to Himself as “the bread of life.”

What then is being sought by the neighbor is not a luxury but a necessity. A basic need.

‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’

There is a gap here… there is a need. The imposing neighbor has a need that he cannot fulfill. He believes, knows perhaps? The neighbor can provide. And to the neighbor he goes to get what he does not have, does not possess.

The persistence of prayer and the persistence in prayer is about the dogged pursuit of God meeting a need… a hunger…that only He can satisfy within His good and perfect will.

“…yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need…”

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

As we prepare for our prayer time I ask us each of us to consider the following questions…

Who is the needy neighbor in this story?

Who is the neighbor who says, at first, “I can’t?”

What kind of “bread” do you need?

What are you hungry for these days?

What are people hungry for these days?

We are the needy neighbors…there is something that we need that we cannot supply ourselves…

The neighbor that we approach is… God

And what we need is bread, Christ Himself, to satisfy our deepest hunger for love, for life, for meaning, for purpose, for peace…

This is what we are hungry for these days…this is what people are hungry for these days as well…what they really need is Jesus and His satisfying grace. And in some cases they don’t know it yet.

Also expect to be inconvenienced from to time because we who represent Christ will be asked, at the most inopportune times, for something we don’t want to give or take the time to give. You will be an answer to someone’s prayer. Just as someone, who Jesus moved to act on your behalf, was an answer to prayer for you.

As Teresa of Avila wrote centuries ago

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Thanks be to God and thanks be to God for our shameless audacity to ask, seek, and find.

Amen

Everything to God in Prayer…When You Pray, Say

Luke 11:1-13

After this message we will be praying silently and in groups for a period of time and I will be asking for room to be made here at the altar so people can use it, then we will divide into groups of three to five persons and pray for one another in those groups; then those who would like to can pray aloud before I close out the time with corporate prayer.

I am spending three of the remaining Sundays this month on prayer and we will be following this same format in worship, closing worship out with prayer each Sunday. Our theme will be Everything to God in Prayer and the theme for this morning’s message is “When you pray, say…”

The series text will be Luke 11:1-13.

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’

And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

As I read this passage through the first time in preparation for today, I noticed a thematic connection that I had not noticed before…

… between the first four verses which is Luke’s record of what we call the Lord’s prayer (a shorter version than in Matthew’s gospel);

… then the next six verses, verses 5 through 10 which has often been treated separately from the previous segment and the segment which follows it about persistence in prayer;

…then the final three verses, verses 11 through 13, that speak of the goodness of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

All are linked together.

Our initial text in this short series is Luke 11:1-4,

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

 

In his comments on these verses, the late Leon Morris wrote “A final point to notice, is that, while it can be prayed privately, it is essentially a corporate prayer.” All the pronouns are plural.”

But there are some other things to notice about this opening segment that is very important as we grasp and learn something about the place of prayer in our faith and lives and what was important to Jesus about prayer.

One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus was praying in a certain place… Luke does not tell us where but the word certain suggests that it was a definite place and probably was known to the disciples (and maybe Luke as well) but it is not named. It could have been the temple in Jerusalem or a synagogue that He often frequented. We don’t know.

But what is important is that Jesus was praying prior to the request of “teach us to pray.”

Prayer mattered to Jesus. There are several places in the gospels in which it is noted that Jesus is praying.

Now the disciples had seen Jesus praying before. As noted in Luke 10, they heard Him praise God the Father for the results of the seventy-two’s ministry.

But on this day, in this moment noted by Luke, something clicked in the mind and heart of one of the disciples who said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

“just as John taught his disciples.”

Who is John and which disciple requested Jesus’ instruction in prayer?

John is John the Baptist and there were two of Jesus’ disciples who had been John the Baptist’s disciples – one was Andrew and mostly like the other was John who wrote the gospel of John, John 1, 2, and 3, and Revelation.

There is a lot about these verses, therefore, we do not know. But what we do know, is that something clicked in the mind and heart of one of Jesus’ closest followers and he asked Jesus for instruction in prayer, and it was a corporate request, (Teach US to pray) just as John the Baptist had taught his disciples, his followers.

And the instruction is a model for prayer, not a three or four step instruction in how to pray but a model of prayer…

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Jesus offers some important elements in prayer with His words:

Hallowed be your name. Hallowed is an older English word for Holy.
Holy is your name…

Prayer is to God, who is Holy…not to someone else or something else. The focus of prayer is to God who is a Holy God.

Then Jesus said, “your kingdom come.” Jesus’ focus as He walked this earth was on the Kingdom of God. Not the Kingdom of Rome nor the fallen Kingdom of Israel. It was on the Kingdom of God.

And the reason I say Kingdom of God is because the “your” refers to His father – God.

The kingdom of God is vastly different than any political entity today. It was the focus of Jesus’ prayer and must be our focus. We are kingdom of God people.

Jesus tells the disciples to pray for the Kingdom of His Father to come – to be-come a reality. What might that look like?

I think that the rest of the prayer give us a hint.

Give us each day our daily bread.

I think that Jesus is saying in today’s language “provide us with what we need for that day.” That’s a prayer of faith, isn’t it?

How many of us truly pray “give us each day our daily bread?”

How many of us buy our food on a daily basis? How many of us buy our food on a weekly basis or bi-weekly basis? Or when someone says, “MOM! We’re out of…”

The times of that day were different. People daily gathered their food.

What would we say today? How would we pray it today?
Provide us with what we need for today?

When I pondered this verse yesterday, I thought about our four cars.

Three of our four cars have been given to us and they have come when we knew that life circumstances required us to have more than one or two cars. They youngest of them is 9 years old and the oldest of them is 15. And the people at a local garage here in town know us by name. Two of them were in their bays at the same time a few weeks ago.

Would I like a newer and nicer car?

Sure would!

(A Lingenfelter Camaro would be nice!)

But we have what we need…

Give us this day our daily transportation…

The dailyness of this request is a challenge for us in prayer in these times when we think out (and have to think out) three, four days…weeks…months…years.

But Jesus says we are to pray, “give us each day our daily bread…”

This address the issue of anxiety and fear which Jesus spoke to in Matthew’s gospel in chapter 6 and verses 25-34 which concludes with

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Then comes…

Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

This has been translated as “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” or “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

But the point anyway we translate it or pray the fuller version as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, is the same:

“Forgive me God for my sins and forgive so and so for hurting me.”

Forgiveness of our sins through a once and for all act of dying on the cross and, praise God, rising from the dead three days later, was Jesus’ mission here on earth. He was not here to debate, to grab power, to have influence.

No, he came so that we could be forgiven of our sins and shortcoming and forgive others who have offended and hurt us as well.

How much is forgiveness a part of your praying?

Forgiveness is about being right with God and being right with others.

Finally, Jesus says to pray

“And lead us not into temptation.’”

The temptations we face are many and I remind us of the truth about the Lord’s help in 1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

(I would note that the original Greek words translated here as temptation and tempted can also be translated as testing and tested.)

But Jesus says to pray, “and lead us not into temptation.”

This is a prayer for strength to resist temptation throughout our day.

This is a prayer for help, a prayer for our will to be strengthened to say no.

How does your praying measure up against this prayer?

 

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

As we prepare for a time of prayer I ask us to consider the following questions:

How does my praying compare to this prayer?

What is the most important thing prayed for in this passage?

For what am I praying these days?

How am I praying these days?

Are you, are we praying for the coming of God’s Kingdom or for our own agendas?

Are we praying for our needs, to be met, just for today, or are we worrying in prayer about them?

Prayer is a vital part of living our faith out in the places we go and inhabit.

And I remind us of the truth of Philippians 4:6-7 as we conclude that prayer can be and must be part of every part of our life each day:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thanks be to God for the power of prayer and for a disciple who spoke up and said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray…”

Amen

Sacrifice and Surrender

Psalm 51:16-17

Hebrews 10:8-10

On Tuesday we are going to again be reminded of this sacrifice that was just sung about. John Adams, our second president wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776 a letter which included these sober words:

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

 

Last Sunday we worshipped with our brothers and sisters at a sister congregation on Marion Indiana and as we left town I stopped at the Marion National Cemetery which we pass just about every time we go to and leave from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Marion Indiana National Cemetery

There are over 8,000 graves in this hallowed place, one of 147 such designated cemeteries in this country. I took these photographs and was particularly interested in section one where the remains of many Hoosier boys from the Civil War are interned.

(I also remind us that 154 years ago two momentous battles were being waged during these opening days in July 1863. One at a place called Vicksburg, Mississippi and one at a small town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg. Some historians believe that these terrible days of early July 1863 were the turning point in the Civil War.)

The sacrifice of which our second president spoke was a deep and costly sacrifice in 1776 and again in 1863 and at other times and places as well and we are the recipients of that sacrifice.

But there is another and I believe, more important sacrifice that we focus on this July Sunday in 2017 and two passages of scripture, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament are the main ones I read this morning:

The first is Psalm 51:16-17

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

And the second is Hebrews 10:8-10:

First, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And the Message translate the passage as:

When he said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings,” he was referring to practices according to the old plan. When he added, “I’m here to do it your way,” he set aside the first in order to enact the new plan—God’s way—by which we are made fit for God by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.

Let’s look first at Psalm 51.

It is a Psalm of confession, King David’s of Israel confession for if you look at your Bible, do you see these words, or something similar at the beginning of the Psalm?

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
We read about Nathan’s confrontation of David in 2 Samuel 12.

David’s intent is clear in the first verse

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.

He seeks God’s forgiveness for his act of adultery, his act of being physically and sexually intimate with another man’s wife. But he also seeks God’s forgiveness for having that man, a loyal man to David, placed in the front line of battle where he would be killed…

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, (verse 14)

David was found out. Nathan confronted him. Israel suffered. David’s character was smashed. His reputation was tarnished. His relationship with God, THE most important thing, was broken. Sin had taken control of David.

When Nathan, through a symbolic story, had David where he wanted him, I think that his voice thundered back at David when David demanded justice for the poor man by saying the rich man to pay dearly for his injustice,

“You are the man!”

You don’t point fingers at royalty. But Nathan did and his finger was the finger of God, pointing at David.

God points His finger at us when it is necessary.

“You are that person!”

He points His finger at our sin…

Our greed

Our envy

Our jealousy

Our fear

Our lust

Our hate

Our unrighteous anger

He puts His finger right on the problem

And we have nowhere to go…

As I was searching for my sermon graphics this week, I encountered this graphic.

It says a great deal about the power and turbulence of sin and the havoc and devastation it causes in our lives and the lives of others.

Now David says something interesting here

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise

David knew the law, the law of Moses which guided the life of Israel and her king.

He knew that there were offerings that needed to be made, the religious law of that day called for it – most likely a sin offering. (A far different meaning then than what we call an offering today though money was involved as reparation in some cases)

A sacrifice was required – a lamb…

David knew what the law said… But he also knew something else

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise

What God wanted from David, and He wants from us when the situation calls for it, is this – an honest brokenness that comes from being humble about our condition. David knew that. He knew that the outward appearance to offer sacrifices at the Temple was one thing – and no doubt word quickly spread about the conversation that Nathan had with the King – but David knew that what was required was a fundamental and deep honesty about oneself that went deeper than the rules.

So for David, sacrifice was a deeper, and more necessary one, that just going to the temple and having a priest offer a sacrifice.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise

I think that this posture of an earnest and honest humility is necessary for us every time we take the Lord’s supper together as we remember and give thanks for Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. It is a time of remembrance to be sure and thanksgiving to the Lord for His sacrifice on our behalf. But it is also a time for serious examination.

And speaking Christ’s sacrifice, I now have us turn to the Hebrews text for a few moments, Hebrews 10:8-10

First, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

This chapter ultimately focuses on the once and for all-ness of Christ’s sacrifice and in these verses the writer of this passage points out what Jesus said (noted at the beginning of verse 5).

On of the things that Paul is trying to point out in passages like this passage and in others like Romans 3 through 8 is that the law, which laid out what kinds of offerings were needed so that people could be forgiven, was not enough. It could not do it because the issue was the power of sin in us and the powerlessness of the law.

Paul says it very well in Romans 8:3-4

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh (which I remind us has to do with our human nature) God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Hebrews 10 expounds on this as it opens

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

This is required of us as well. We cannot, cannot through our church involvement and history be made right with God. We cannot. We cannot through our religious activities find salvation in Christ. Only through the death and, praise God the resurrection, of Jesus Christ can we be made right with God.

So, as we prepare for the Lord’s Supper or communion, as we remember and give thanks, we also must take the time to be very honestly open to the Holy Spirit and His probing movement. He wants to us to confess, to tell the truth about ourselves, He wants us repent, to honestly turn away from our sin, even as we admit we don’t want to, and allow the blood of Christ to cleanse us from our sins, ALL of our sin. He wants us to do these things so that we can be free – of our sins, of our guilt, of our shame.

Go to a mirror and look at your self…

Then say three times, outloud, “I am forgiven. I am redeemble. I am loved.”

I invite each of us to do that this morning.

Let us prepare our hearts and souls for communion and may the grace and peace of Christ really be in our hearts and souls today and tomorrow.

Thanks be to God!

Amen

The Power to Truly Live

Romans 8

Pentecost Sunday Message

As we prepare for Communion, I begin by reading the entire chapter of Romans 8.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8&version=NIV

This is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Those wonderful words which open the chapter, still get me excited and still send shivers through my soul and down my spine from time.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

This wonderful proclamation comes on the heels of Paul’s tremendous words at the end of chapter 7, words which everyone of us can relate to because he reminds us that we are engaged 21 centuries later in the same battle that he fought, and all of humanity has fought and still fights, but with a very important reminder that it is a battle that can be won!

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.

 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

(I remind us for a moment, that when Paul speaks of the law, he is referring to the law of Moses laid out in books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy which formed the basis of the Jewish faith. And when he speaks of the flesh, he is referring to our human nature.)

While we must acknowledge the truth of our soul condition in these final verses of chapter 7 such acknowledgment must lead us to embrace and live in the truth, power, and hope of verse 1 and the rest of chapter 8 or we are stuck in an attitude and pattern of living that is full of despair and not increasing victory through and in Christ.

And on this day, when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit, in power as Jesus said that He would come, we need to remember that the Holy Spirit is still present today with no less power than He had back then.

Many people live in fear of the Holy Spirit. Some referred to the Holy Spirit as the Holy Ghost and often use the pronoun ‘it’ rather than ‘He.’

It’s okay to say Holy Ghost as that is the term used in the King James Version of the Bible. The word ‘Ghost’ comes from the Old English word gast, “spirit.” But the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is not an it.

We have nothing to fear from the Holy Spirit. He is present to help us and I have us move to Romans 8:26-27 to be reminded of this help:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

The Holy Spirit is our prayer partner. He is our intercessor.

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans

He goes to God the Father on our behalf.

The Holy Spirit is for us! He is not against us! He is for us! Yes, He is the one who convicts of our sin and wrongs. He is the one who makes uncomfortable when we are out of God’s will. He makes uncomfortable because it is a reminder that we are not living the way we need to live. His convicting power is a call for us to come home.

But, as Paul says a few verses later, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

A few weeks ago, I concluded a sermon series which focused on having an emotionally healthy faith. I used the image of an iceberg to remind us that there is more to us that meets the eye. There are deep, deep areas of our life, our soul where the battle rages to do what is right!

This is where the Holy Spirit works!

I think that Paul gets at this when he concludes Romans 8 with these powerful affirmations:

in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let’s get practical now because I think that we need practical when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit because He works in the practical, everyday aspects of life – the attitudes we struggle with, the habits that cause us problems, the hurts we have trouble letting go of – this is Holy Spirit territory and praise the Lord it is!

Grab a pen and your bulletin…

Now, take a moment and respond to this question…

What is causing you the most difficulty right now in your life?

Is it an attitude like resentment, fear, or worry?

Is it a habit like drinking too much, or eating too much, or a sexual habit of some kind, or?

Is it a wound from the recent or distant past that you have trouble letting go of?

Write down what you are having the most difficulty with right now.

Now reflect again on this passage from Romans 8 and come up with a few ways the Holy Spirit can help you deal with this difficulty:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

One of the most important ways that the Spirit helps us with such difficulty (and I remind us that He wants to help us with such difficulties) is when we let Him help us. He will help us with our issues, but we must be willing to allow Him to help us and we must want Him to help us.

Christ did not come and die, and then, praise God, rise from the grave just for us to live a miserable life.

The Holy Spirit came on this day that we now call Pentecost Sunday, not for us to wallow in sin, self-pity, defeat, and despair.

No Christ came and the Holy Spirit came to give us life, and life more abundant!

We do not have to live defeated, discouraged, and disgusted with our life and faith.

Through and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can choose, and keep choosing to live in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit!

The choice is ours. Let us choose to do it!

I conclude with some wonderful quotes about how the Holy Spirit works in a variety of ways:

“Never worry alone. When anxiety grabs my mind, it is self-perpetuating. Worrisome thoughts reproduce faster than rabbits, so one of the most powerful ways to stop the spiral of worry is simply to disclose my worry to a friend… The simple act of reassurance from another human being [becomes] a tool of the Spirit to cast out fear — because peace and fear are both contagious.” John Ortberg

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.” Billy Graham

“To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life. Jesus listened. In John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus was moved with the deepest emotions (11:33)… The gospel portrait of the beloved Child of Abba is that of a man exquisitely attuned to His emotions and uninhibited in expressing them. The Son of Man did not scorn or reject feelings as fickle and unreliable. They were sensitive antennae to which He listened carefully and through which He perceived the will of His Father for congruent speech and action.” Brennan Manning

“Will God ever ask you to do something you are not able to do? The answer is yes–all the time! It must be that way, for God’s glory and kingdom. If we function according to our ability alone, we get the glory; if we function according to the power of the Spirit within us, God gets the glory. He wants to reveal Himself to a watching world.” Henry Blackaby

“The wizard [of Oz] says look inside yourself and find self. God says look inside yourself and find [the Holy Spirit]. The first will get you to Kansas. The latter will get you to heaven. Take your pick.” Max Lucado

“In my experience, self-hatred is the dominant malaise crippling Christians and stifling their growth in the Holy Spirit.” Brennan Manning

“… self-control is not control by oneself through one’s own willpower but rather control of oneself through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Jerry Bridges

“We say we want revival . . . but on our terms. We don’t pray this way, but this is what our hearts are saying to God: “Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if you promise in advance to do things the way we have always done them in our church.” “Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if I have some sort of prior guarantee that when you show up you won’t embarrass me.” “Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if your work of revival is one that I can still control, one that preserves intact the traditions with which I am comfortable.” “Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if your work of revival is neat and tidy and dignified and understandable and above all else socially acceptable.” “Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if you plan to change others; only if you make them to be like me; only if you convict their hearts so they will live and dress and talk like I do.” “Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if you let us preserve our distinctives and retain our differences from others whom we find offensive.” Sam Storms

“But the Holy Spirit is not in a hurry. Character is the [product] of a lifetime.” John Stott

As we prepare for communion, I ask to consider:

Are we open to the Holy Spirit this morning? Are we open to His convicting work? Are we open to His comforting work? Are we open to His deepening work?

How much of you does the Lord have this morning?

He wants, He needs it all!

Let us be responsive and obedient to the movement of the Spirit this morning.

And thanks be to God for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit!

Amen.

 

The Right Kind of Christian _____________

Luke 15:20-24, Romans 12:10-16

 

The Right Kind of Christian [fill in the blank]

 

Think about these answers for the blank as we look in on New Christian and the answers offered to her…

Skit The New Christian by Hicks and Cohagen

 

Well, was there a right answer given to New Christian?

 

Maybe, maybe not.

 

Two passages from the Bible, previously read, form the base for this morning’s message and I want to read them again, back to back:

 

Luke 15:20-24

 

So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

 

Romans 12:10-16

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

 

As I conclude our series A Resurrection Faith is an Emotionally Healthy Faith, I take us back for a moment to the image of an iceberg that I presented in the first message in this series as I said this:

 

 

 

 

We are like icebergs, most of the time people only see what is visible, above the surface. But just as there is more to the iceberg below the surface (something that the Titanic discovered over a century ago), there is more to us just below the surface.

There is far more going on within us, deep within us, than what people are aware of, and sometimes we are even aware of. But God is aware of what is going on and He cares about that part of us – the deep, deep part.

 

Jesus made that clear when He said in Matthew 15 verses 18 through 20:

the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; 

 

Please hear me this morning church

 

God cares about ALL of us! The surface parts and below the surface parts, especially the deep parts.

The parts where we wrestle with temptation, habits that cause us pain and cause us to sin, the conflicts and resentments that we struggle to let go of or that drive us to put up walls, the fears which drive us to not trust others, the Lord, and even ourselves because we fear failure more than anything or these fears drive us to do crazy things which do not make sense and drive us away from God and others and even ourselves so that we are numb on the inside.

God cares about it ALL!

 

And this brings me to this question for reflection this morning:

What sometimes distracts you from seeing the people you are with as they really are?

Now it might sound like a question out of left-field, but I AM going somewhere with it this morning.

Let’s begin with the familiar story of the Prodigal Son and his father.

Jesus tells this story to his audience as the concluding story in a group of three about the passionate pursuit of something that has been lost. The first story is about a lost sheep, the second story is about a lost coin, and then this final story is about a lost son.

 

All three stories are about something of value to someone and the passionate pursuit of finding that thing or person of value.

 

And it is also about the passionate pursuit of God for us to find us and bring us home.

 

Two of the items are ones that cannot come home by themselves. Both the sheep and the coin have to be found. Does not the Lord seek out those who are lost?

 

This third story is about someone who comes to his senses and goes home with the expectation that the relationship will not be the same. Perhaps, the young man saw it happen with others.

 

But the father, did not see it that way.

 

He saw HIS son coming home! Finally, after all this time!

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

 

How did the father see his son? With compassion. He saw him for who he really was.

 

The late Stephen Covey shared in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective people the story of how he and his wife had an ‘ah-ha’ moment with one of their sons in his early years when they began to see him for who he was and not what they were trying to make him out to be. It was a turning point for all three.

 

I often want to be seen by people in a certain way. Correction, I want to be seen by people in a certain way. Do you?

 

In some situations, I want to be seen as competent. In others, I want to be seen as compassionate. In others, fun and hip. Do you?

 

The father saw the son as he needed to see him at that point. With compassion as his son.

 

I think that he was able to have a below the surface view of his son because he had seen other sons come home in the same condition and maybe he had once been a prodigal.

 

(Uh, pastor, this is a parable and God is the father here, he’s perfect.)

 

Well, you’re right.

 

But I wonder how often Jesus saw this scene played out as he walked the roads of Israel in that day. And I wonder if all of the reunions were as joyous as this one was?

 

In getting some deeper background on this passage, I read of one commenter suggesting that grown men did not run in that culture and that perhaps in closing the gap, the father stopped the scolding and shaming that the son would encounter as he walked into the town or village. The walk of shame as someone has called it.

 

The father saw his son as needed to be seen.

 

God sees us as we need to be seen and also as we can be.

 

Now we move to the Romans passage

 

Be devoted to one another in love.

Honor one another above yourselves.

keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Be joyful in hopepatient in afflictionfaithful in prayer 

Share with the Lord’s people who are in needPractice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute youbless and do not curse.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Live in harmony with one another.

Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.

Do not be conceited.

 

(Anyone feel convicted yet?)

 

There is an entire sermon series in this passage but I am going to focus on only two of them.

 

The first one is mourn with those who mourn.

 

I think that we have forgotten how to mourn in our culture. It is something that we don’t have time for. In many ways, I think, we are shamed or made to feel guilty for mourning.

 

But as I wrote these words, I recall a statement made by a Bishop in a sister Wesleyan denomination who said, nearly 40 years ago now, that he had not had time to grieve the passing of someone until perhaps, from what I recall, about a month after their death.

 

Maybe we forgot how to grieve a long time ago. We cannot wait on ourselves or others to grieve. We don’t have time. We can’t waste time. Too much to do.

 

“Is there something or someone in your past that you have not adequately grieved or mourned?”

 

It could be the death of someone, grief does not operate in a straight line and sequential manner.

 

But what about the death of a dream? You wanted to achieve something. A college degree, perhaps? Or a business venture in a field you loved, maybe still love? Or having a child and you couldn’t conceive or you lost one? Or the death of a relationship because of unresolved conflict, infidelity or domestic violence?

 

These deaths can be as painful as the death of someone we love.

 

In the context of a reflection on the life of Job and how he dealt with his tragic loss and the pain of those losses, listen to what Peter Scazzero writes:

“In our culture, addiction has become the most common way to deal with pain. We watch television incessantly. We keep busy, running from one activity to another. We work seventy hours a week, indulge in pornography, overeat, drink, take pills-anything to help us avoid the pain. Some of us demand that someone or something (a marriage, sexual partner, an ideal family, children, an achievement, a career, or a church) take our loneliness away.

Sadly, the result of denying and minimizing our wounds over many years is that we become less and less human, empty Christian shells with painted smiley faces. For some, a dull, low-level depression descends upon us, making us nearly unresponsive to all reality.

Much of contemporary Christian culture has added to this inhuman and unbiblical avoidance of pain and loss. We feel guilty for not obeying Scripture’s commands to “rejoice in the Lord always”…

Deep down, he concludes, many of us feel ashamed like Joe, a visitor to New Life who said to me recently, “Feeling sad or depressed or anxious about the future has got to be due to my unbelief. This is not God. It has to be related to my sins. I just figured it was better I stay away from church and Christians for a while until I get over it.”

 

I would ask, “Maybe Joe, maybe your depression has nothing to do with your sin but everything to do with unresolved grief?”

 

Have we forgotten, or never learned, how to grieve, how to mourn, well?

 

We’re stuck in a rut, an inner rut. Our iceberg contains unresolved loss.

 

Part of a resurrection faith is that we grieve, we mourn, not alone but in community with others who walk alongside us as they listen, not judge, not give advice, but listen to our mourning and pray for us.

 

Such appropriate grieving allows the Lord to help us move on and not stay stuck in the past.

 

The second thing we need to do is rejoice with those who rejoice.

 

We rejoice without jealousy, without envy.

 

We celebrate the successes of others without comparing our situation to theirs.

 

We pray God’s blessing on them.

 

We thank God for their success, their achievement, their joy…even if our hearts are breaking.

 

We acknowledge the goodness of God.

 

And the joy of life.

 

As the evening sun set that day in the village, Joshua and Ezekiel sat by the village wall, cooling in the shade that it made.

“Well, well,” said Joshua, “I never thought that I would see our dear friend Moses run like that this morning!”

Both chuckled as they recalled the moment when Moses saw his youngest son, Aaron, dirty, smelly, and ragged, coming into the village after his two year absence. His undignified run to and his embrace of the young man that many had hoped would never return (“he was so much trouble to Moses especially after Ruth died;” “that young man needs a rabbinic intervention!”) was the talk of the village.

Even as they sat, the party Moses had thrown, was still going on and they could hear the joy as the light breeze blew the sounds across the roofs and walls.

“Well, I don’t Nathan is too pleased with what happened today.”

“Why? What did he say to you?”

“Nothing. It was the look on his face which said it all as Aaron was brought to their house. He was angry. He was mad.”

“Hum…”

“I heard him in a shouting match with Moses.”

“What did he say?”

“Something about, wasting it all on someone who did not appreciate it then and won’t now…How long before he leaves again?…Look what I have done for you all these years especially since…”

The conversation stopped for a moment as if the revered leaders had to gather their strength for what came next…

“Since…Ruth and Jonathon died…”

“Yes, said Ezekiel, “there was no time to grieve for the family, especially Nathan.”

“You’re right,” Joshua replied, “Moses could not stop working long enough to pay attention to his sons. Nathan kept it all in. Aaron acted out his grief.”

“One of them still needs to grieve.” © Jim Kane

 

God wastes nothing in our lives… our failures as well as our successes. Even our un-resolved losses and grief.

 

The right kind of Christian grieves with those who grieve and rejoices with those who rejoices because all of life matters to God – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

 

Two questions to consider in closing before we hear from Tenth Avenue North about a hope that is for us. One is an internal question and the other is an external one:

What do you need to grieve to live more fully and at peace?

How can you begin to see Jesus in the people you meet this week?

The questions sound perhaps diametrically opposed to one another, but they are not.

They are part of our lives, everyday life.

We get blinded, even embittered by our unresolved grief and loss.

It colors everything we do.

Jesus saw people with a clarity that was liberating for many.

But pastor, I am not Jesus and you are not either!

You’re right, we are not Jesus.

 

But I think that when we begin to resolve our losses and their pain, we begin to see people with greater understanding and compassion. That’s is what Jesus would have us do.

I close this morning with a word about hope. Actually, several words about hope

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

 

 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

 

We can live victoriously! In spite of and through all of the pain and sorrow and grief and disappointments of life. They do not have to have the last word!

Let us be people of hope… in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Let us be people of the resurrection who live confidently in the hope, power and peace that is ours through Jesus Christ!

Thanks be to God!

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting The “Behind” in Your Past

Genesis 45:4-7

Sermon for May 7, 2017

That famous philosopher of the African plains, Pumbaa the Warthog once said:

You gotta put your behind in the past.

Of course, not everybody agreed with him, especially his friend Timon the meerkat.

Sit down before you hurt yourself…

 

For some people, to think of dealing with the past is an unsettling thing to do. It brings back too many memories, memories that we would rather leave alone. And besides, Pastor, didn’t Paul say that we are to:

 

[Forget] what is behind and [strain] toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus?

 

You’re right he did…

 

But in Galatians 1:17-18 Paul is doing a little personal history and we hear Paul say

I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 

Several years went by, perhaps 3 to 4 or even 5 years went by, after his conversion on the Damascus road before he met with Peter. He was out of sight and bible scholars have differing views as to what he did.

I wonder if he spent time looking back on his life and coming to grips with what he had done. Remember, as noted in Acts 8 where the first verse, coming on the heels of chapter 7 and the stoning of Stephen we read:

And Saul approved of their killing him.

And a bit further

Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

So Paul had blood on his hands. Talk about a past!

So perhaps this three, perhaps four or five year period, was a time of looking back before he could go forward and say

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus

 

I began this series with the story of a young woman who discovered that the reason for cutting the ends of her meatloaf off had nothing to do with a “that’s the way it’s done around here” attitude but because of a very practical reason – her grandmother’s first meatloaf pan was too small. And yet, it also illustrated the power that our families of origin have over us.

 

I am reminded of this every time my mother tells the story of my father expressing frustration with the condition of his dress shirts early in their marriage.

He asked, “why aren’t my shirts done” or “I have no clean shirts.” To which my mom replied, as she entered the bedroom “Yes you do, they’re right here.”

To which my father replied, “No they’re not, look at my collars, they’re not starched!”

“Yes I did starch them!”

To which my father, nearly fatally replied, “My mother does a better job of starching my shirts.”

To which my mother replied, in a very steely voice, “Well then, your mother can do your shirts!” and she stomped out of the bedroom.

Our family of origin has a powerful influence on the way we live our lives from how we ate dinner (or supper) as a time to discuss issues or a “we eat then we talk” moment to who takes out the garbage and does the dishes…or how the washing and drying is done.

Conflict resolution, gender roles, how the house is organized, sexual expression – all of these are part of our family of origin issues and they affect our faith as well as the way we live our lives.

Which leads me to our first reflection question for this morning:

 

“What is your greatest fear in looking back at your family of origin to discern unhealthy patterns and themes?”

Now you might be thinking, “Pastor Jim is gonna have us blame our parents for all of our problems.”

No, I am not.

But what do we do with passages like Numbers 14:18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’

The context of this passage has to do with lack of faith of and by the Israelites. It comes on the heels of the report of the 12 spies who speak of a great land of plenty but with people more powerful than they and only one of the 12 say, “We can take this land.”

God gets angry and wants to take them out. But Moses’ pleading with God gets the desired result: (Numbers 14:15-20)

 If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’

 “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked.”

(Can you imagine having that kind of influence, that kind of relationship with God?)

God, I think is saying, “punishment is coming for the next couple of generations because of the lack of faith I see here.”

There has been, there continues to be, and there will be, the impact of generational actions on future generations. There is a spiritual dynamic at work here that is not easily, I think, discerned at times.

But I tell you, I have seen it at work in the lives of people you know and I know.

Think about the dynamic of addiction for a moment.

A daughter watches her mom drink and use drugs to cope. What is the likelihood of the daughter doing the same?

A son finds his dad’s stash of porn videos or is computer savvy enough to discover the browsing history on the family computer and starts down the same path.

Or the lack of stability in home life with one relationship or marriage after another.

A son and a daughter watch their mother marry and divorce one man after another, have children with each of them, and end up living the rest of their lives as a single person with siblings and half-siblings doing the same thing. What might they conclude?

One of the most researched topics in recent history is that of the effects of father absence on children and teens. It is devastating and has implications for educational achievement, sexual behavior and depression, among other issues of kids and teens.

If we are to have a resurrection faith that is emotionally healthy and spiritually maturing, we often have to go back into our pasts in order that, with the help of God, our futures, and that of those who come after us, is better. We need go back, in order to identify, acknowledge, and surrender those long dark fingers that reach up and out to our minds and souls to keep us enslaved to habits and attitudes that rob us of the joy, peace, and power of God’s saving grace and mercy.

Our main texts for this morning is one that well illustrates the dynamic of family choices and sin (today, we use the word dysfunction) but also, how God’s grace, in the life of one family member, can break the power of the past and bring freedom with others and with God.

Genesis 45:4-7

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 

For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

The jig is up. Joseph, after a period of torturous restraint reveals his true identity and brings the larger purpose of God into the situation. But, not all is well after this. The brothers still have to deal with some lingering fears in their own hearts.

We go to Genesis 50 and verses 15 to 21

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”

So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 

‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

The brothers were still afraid of what might happen to them.

They were full of fear and anxiety over an event in their past.

“What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”

But there was a way out…a way to deal with the past

So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”

I did some checking about the approximately number of years between Joseph being sold into slavery and this episode. One source that I consulted says that it was about 39 years between the two events. Nearly four decades.

Four decades of guilt and shame and the resultant fear for the brothers to deal with as they probably wondered in the final 15 or so years what Joseph might do to them.

Joseph could have chosen to live on four decades of resentment, bitterness, even hate and felt justified in feeling it for after all it was family that turned on you.

But what happened?

Joseph wept.

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

Joseph forgave.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are two vital actions we take to have an emotionally healthy faith. They free us up from the guilt, the resentment, the fear we carry around…often for decades.

When we forgive and when we seek to take responsibility for our past and seek to be reconciled, our past no longer has to have the hold on us it once did. Satan will probably keep bringing it up, but it no longer has to hold us back because as we do this letting go, this forgiving, this reconciliation, in Jesus’ name, there is a freedom that comes. Just ask the prodigal son…and his father.

The question is, “Do we want to? Do we want to do this? Let go of the past? Finally face it and let it go?

There is probably a name or a situation in your mind right now that has come up in these moments because when the past, your past, is brought up, this person or situation is the one that stands across your path. Am I right?

What do I do pastor?

Go to them. Call them. Don’t text them or message them on Facebook. Let them hear your voice, see your face as you speak to them about the past and your desire to make things right.

Maybe some you need to seek some counseling before taking a next step. There are some issues which need to be dealt with by a caring professional who can help you get ready for that call or visit.

But Pastor, what if they have died?

A suggestion. Write a letter. Leaving nothing out. Put it all in there. Make a clean sweep of things, even if you are the one that has been wronged. Talk about your pain and resentment.

Then sit down with someone who you trust and will listen without judgment or the need to correct your grammar. Tell them you are letting go of the past and need and want to bring the past into the present with this letter as a way of letting go. And read the letter.

Then…if you can, go to the cemetery where they are buried and read the letter, out loud, at the graveside of the person or persons in question.

If you can’t go there and you have a picture of the person or person, put the picture in front of you and read the letter again, out loud.

But Pastor, what if I am the person who was in the wrong? I lied. I stole. I cheated. I betrayed.

Write a letter. Put it all in there. Leave nothing out. Find a very trust worthy person, perhaps a counselor, and read the letter to them and ask them for feedback because the issues raised could have all sorts of legal, occupational, and relational consequences.

Then call the person and set up a time to be face to face with them, perhaps with a person such as a counselor present, and read the letter to them. Read aloud.

If their health or their age prohibits you from being able to have a coherent meeting with them, then use the time with a counselor or someone like them, to read the letter and work through the issues.

Pray and ask God for Him to work. And be prepared to hear nothing back. You have done your part in attempting to make things right.

What do I do, pastor, if I really cannot find the person or I might put the person in a difficult situation (such as creating unnecessary conflict with the person’s spouse) or the person is dead?

Write a letter. Put it all in there. Leave nothing out.

Find a very, very trustworthy person that will be able to handle what you have done and read the letter to them. Then in the presence of that person, pray a prayer of repentance asking God to forgive you.

Shred the letter and surrender the situation and your heart and soul to the Lord asking for His forgiveness.

In her book, Passage to Intimacy, Lori Gordon tells an old story about a boy who, having grown up at the edge of a wide, turbulent river, spent his childhood learning to build rafts.  When the boy reached manhood, he felled some trees, lashed them together, and riding his raft, he crossed to the far side of the river.

Because he had spent so long working on the raft, he couldn’t see leaving it behind when he reached dry land, so he lashed it to his shoulders and carried it with him, though all he came upon in his journeys were a few easily fordable streams and puddles.

He rarely though talked about the things he was missing out on because he was carrying the bulky raft – the trees he couldn’t climb, vistas he couldn’t see, people he couldn’t get close to and races he couldn’t run.

He didn’t even realize how heavy the raft was, because he had never known what it was like to be free of it.

Two questions to reflect on this morning as we move toward the conclusion of this message:

What heavy “raft” might you be carrying as you seek to climb the mountains God has placed before you?

What would it look like for you to surrender the pains of your past (mistakes, sins, setbacks, and disappointments) to God today?

Take time to write out what you need to this morning as we listen to Lauren Daigle sing about the need for the breath of God to breathe into us the life giving power to come alive again and come home to the Lord….free from our pasts.

God has more for us than we can possibly image! Let’s us begin to face what we need to face in our past and let it go into God’s hands.

Thanks be to God

Amen!

 

A Pain in the…Soul

Sermon for April 30, 2017

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

The Blessing of Pain

 

I begin this morning with a bit of Did You Know regarding hip surgery and hip replacements:

 

According to Wikipedia, the earliest recorded attempts at hip replacements were carried out what year?

 

1877

1925

1891

1775

 

The correct answer is: 1891

 

The earliest recorded attempts at hip replacement “were carried out in Germany in 1891 by Themistocles Gluck (1853–1942), who used ivory to replace the femoral head (the ball on the femur), attaching it with nickel-plated screws, Plaster of Paris, and glue.”

 

Now, which year, according to Wikipedia, was the first the first metallic hip replacement surgery performed?

 

1940

1967

1954

1960

 

On September 28, 1940 at Columbia Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina, American surgeon Dr. Austin T. Moore (1899–1963) performed the first metallic hip replacement surgery.

 

Final question, in 2011 how many joint replacements procedures were carried out here in the US?

 

2 million

1 million

4 million

750,000

 

According to the website of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, “In 2011, almost 1 million total joint replacements were performed in the United States. Hip and knee replacements are the most commonly performed joint replacements, but replacement surgery can be performed on other joints, as well, including the ankle, wrist, shoulder, and elbow.”

 

Bonus question, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons was founded in what year?

 

1957

1933

1902

1965

 

1933

 

Some of us here this morning have had hip surgery or hip replacement surgery or some kind of joint replacement surgery. It is truly amazing what can be done these days although the risks are there as with any surgery.

 

Now taking a different direction this morning in speaking about joints and hips and shoulders and the like

 

One of the things that is often said to people who are upset about something is

 

“Don’t get bent out of shape.”

 

One source I looked at said this about the phrase:

 

“To get bent out of shape became a popular idiom in the 1900s and some people speculate that it may have originated from the dreaded, yet unavoidable SCUBA diving condition of the bends.”

 

And the bends come when divers rise too quickly to the surface of the water and it “describes a condition arising from dissolved gases coming out of solution into bubbles inside the body on depressurization.” It is painful and can be fatal if not treated. The joints are often the most affected by the situation.

 

Can we get “the bends” in our soul?

 

If so, how do we treat it? How do we prevent it from happening?

 

Here is the first reflection question for this morning:

 

In what way(s) has God put your life or plans “out of joint” so that you might depend on him?

 

We are continuing in the series “A Resurrection Faith is an Emotionally Healthy Faith.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has, praise God, made possible the forgiveness of our sins and promised us eternal life with the Lord.

 

But what about all the issues we face here on earth until then? What about the conflicts we face? What about the constant temptations to gossip, to hate, to judge; what about the addictions we face, to food, to sex, to money, to work, to power, that cause our lives to fall apart.

 

Are we to simply endure to the end, or is part of the resurrection story the resurrection of our character as well as our souls?

 

Jesus made clear in Matthew 5 about the danger of anger which can lead to murder; the lust in the mind and heart that can lead to adultery; and divorce for the sake of convenience or personal preference only. These are issues which have affected us as well. They cause us pain, they create fear in us, they damage relationships, and they affect our souls.

 

In most, if not all, of his letters Paul wrote about these issues:

 

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

 

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Ephesians 4:31

 

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21

 

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

“…you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:8

 

These are issues that are still problems for Christians today because Paul was writing to Christians in the churches that he had helped start!

 

And how many of them do each of us struggle with? And how many of us have found ourselves living defeated lives day and after day?

 

God cares about these issues as well. He wants to us to live victoriously and we can do that!

 

But it requires some things from us otherwise the Lord can’t help us not because He is powerless but because without our cooperation, He can’t help us if we will not yield to His move and work in our lives.

 

Last week, I spoke about “hitting the wall” about those moments, sometimes called the “dark night of the soul” when we experience the powerless that sweeps us off our feet and causes us to face the deep places of our lives and our soul and allow Christ to get in there and begin to make necessary changes such as letting go of pride.

 

That sermon, based on the thematic outline I am following, should have been given in a few weeks. I threw us all in the deep end…on purpose.

 

Today, I want to begin at the start of the thematic outline and speak to the why an emotionally healthy faith is necessary.

 

The text which have been read this morning speak to the ability of God to comfort and sustain us:

 

pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:8

 

They also speak to the need to not love the ways of the world because they are at odds with the love of God:

 

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:17

 

And the very real story of one who finally had face himself, and God, in an unforgettable way as he wrestled with perhaps God Himself or at least a heavenly being

 

When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

 

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

 

Our main text for this morning is about another man who wrestled with a pain in the soul that he struggled to overcome. It is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

 

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

 

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

 

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

Two sentences in this verse have gotten a lot of attention over the years:

 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

But this morning, I want to focus on these sentences

 

in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me

 

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

I don’t know about you, but these two sentences challenge me today. They challenge me about some of my assumptions of what God allows and does not allow in our lives. They make me re-think the differences between the consequences of sin and the consequences of the Lord acting in a manner that seeks to spare us from sin.

 

What are you saying pastor?

 

We need to add back in the opening phrase of verse 7 to get the full meaning of what Paul means

 

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited

 

There is that word “therefore” again!

 

I have spoken of the significance this transitional word and I simply remind us it means “for that reason; consequently.”

 

So we can say, “For this reason, in order to keep me from being conceited I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me…

 

or

 

“Consequently, in order to keep me from being conceited I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me…

 

So, this segment of scripture is a conclusion to be drawn from what has previously taken place and what has previously taken place appears in verses 1 through the opening segment of verse 7 in chapter 12

 

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations.

 

Paul is facing his critics in an argument that really begins back in chapter 10 where he addresses his critics about his ministry against what he calls in chapter 11 “super-apostles.” He says in verse 7 of chapter 10:

 

You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do.

 

This is a common problem for Paul. Everywhere he went, he faced opposition about his ministry, his message, his methods, his ability, even his appearance.

 

The comparison game is a game that has been played by human beings for a long time! And it is NOT part of a healthy faith. It is damaging to a healthy faith.

 

Have you heard the saying…

 

Our insides never match the outsides of others.

 

In other words, what I feel about myself, what I think about the successes or good fortune of others, the inside of me, never matches what I see about others.

 

Such comparisons are deadly for our spiritual health.

 

Now back to where we need to be…

 

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations.

 

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

What is Paul saying here? Who is he talking about?

 

I believe that Paul is referring to himself as the man who experienced a significant spiritual experience many years earlier and was kept from becoming conceited about it by a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me…”

 

Why would God allow that to happen? Why couldn’t Paul be permitted to speak of his experiences? After all, it could help some people, couldn’t it? They could be encouraged by Paul’s experience. They could be helped in their understanding of heaven and God’s purposes for us. They could be provided with new understandings that would increase their knowledge of many things because Paul would be able to share those things because of his experience!

 

Why wasn’t he allowed Pastor? Think about the possibilities!

 

A new book, probably to be on the New York Times best seller list!

 

A marketing plan that would include advanced reader copies to bloggers and reviewers with them sharing their links to their reviews on Twitter, Facebook, and even Amazon.com!

 

A new video series could come out and be available for use by churches!

 

A website could be part of all of this so that special offers could be made to those who signed up for weekly emails to your inbox and a free e-book given that provides new material that goes beyond the book!

 

You get where I am going with this, right?

 

The important word here in this passage is conceited.

 

The Lord knew Paul. He knew that He was an intense man.

 

He knew that he could write well and convince many people of God’s new way.

 

His conversion experience was dramatic, beyond belief.

 

He could be greater than Jesus Himself!

 

Ah…there’s the problem

 

in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

But if Paul would had gotten conceited who would have written the verses we have read today? Chances are he would not have written a great portion of the New Testament.

 

So God, think about this for a moment, God sent him a

 

C R I T I C

 

Lots of them…

 

It kept Paul humble and relying on the Lord…

 

God says ‘No’ you are not going to tell of that experience. It will drive you away from me. You will become the center, not me.

 

The Lord put Paul’s life “out of joint.”

 

There is a purpose in pain and the Lord uses pain as a way of drawing us back to Him and staying close to Him.

 

We don’t like to hear “No.” What do you mean God, no, you don’t want me to do that?

 

Two questions for this morning

 

What internal or external storm might God be sending into your life as a sign that something is not right spiritually?

 

What are you angry about today? Sad about? Afraid of? Pour out your responses before God, trusting in him as David did.

 

As you reflect listen to Hillary Scott sing about the four hardest words to pray and live out on a daily basis.

 

God’s no is not always a punishment. Many times, His no is a detour around a grave danger or poor decision.

 

It is also part of having a healthy and mature faith.

 

Thanks be to God for that!

 

Amen

Note: The three questions are from the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality workbook. All copyright is to Peter and Geri Scazzaro