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!

 

My Review of Matteo Bussola’s Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast

“My job is being a father. My profession is drawing comics. I write for fun.”

Matteo Bussola’s Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast (TarcherPerigree, 2017) is a delightful and wonderful piece about the joys of fatherhood no matter if you are the father of daughters (as he is) or sons…or both!

Developed, from what this reviewer understands, from his Facebook posts, Bussola takes us on an inside look of fatherhood, and life, as he helps his three young daughters navigate life and the wider work in which they lived.

Organized into the four seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall, Bussola chronicles the daily tasks of being a dad, a husband, and an adult as he unpacks insightful nuggets of wisdom from his daughters’ questions; reflects on the fleeting time he has with his daughters; and addresses contemporary issues such as racism and ageism.

Several stories I marked as my favorite and while I will not share their content, I list a few of them here:

Kids’ Party – A hilarious look at two dad’s (one of them being Bussola) at a kid’s birthday party.

Eyes like Andy Garcia – Probably my favorite of them all.  A reminder of many things, including that children have a way of bringing you down to earth with a sudden thud!

Pockets Full of Stones – A wonderful bittersweet reflection looking at the long term aspect of fatherhood that changes as children grow older.

Daughter to Go – A humorous look at what happens when you turn the tables on a telemarketer with your “dad card.”

This book is a wonderful gift for dads and dads-to-be.

I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads.

Note: I received an uncorrected proof of this book from the Amazon Vine reviewer program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

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

 

My Review of Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls

Kate Moore has written a gritty, gut wrenching and gut retching, story about a group of young women that ninety years ago fought both for their lives, the lives of their equally young and promising co-workers, and for safety in the workplace. They had so much to look forward to – life, love, and all that is part of them. But, they, as did many others, succumbed to the hideous effects of a radioactive substance called Radium.

Known by the moniker, The Radium Girls, these women who lived in two disparate towns, urban Orange New Jersey and the Illinois prairie town of Ottawa, Illinois, have their names made known by Moore alongside their tragic story in her book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women (Sourcebooks, 2017)

The fascination with the nature of radium in the second and third decades of the 1900’s included its use in paint that was applied on watch dials and then added to toothpaste, make-up, and other consumer products. But when young vibrant women such as Katherine Schaub, who began working for the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in 1917, began developing serious and incurable health issues – dental decay and loss, tumors, hip and leg issues, the truth about the radioactivity of radium and its devastating and deadly effects on the human body began to be seen and eventually investigated.

Divided into three sections – Part One: Knowledge; Part Two: Power; Part Three: Justice – Moore does what she sets out to do as noted in her introduction – to tell the stories of the individual women behind the moniker “The Radium Girls.” She does it well.

The Radium Girls is not an easy read at times.  It is graphic as Moore describes the facial decay of some of the women whose teeth and jaws disintegrate because they are trained to ‘lip’ their fine brushes in their mouths, then ‘dip’ their brush in the paint, and then ‘paint’ their dials.  “lip…dip…paint.”

But The Radium Girls is also essential reading. It is a story with profound implications for workplace safety, consumer protections, and corporate responsibilities. It is a history of American labor and business practices and law. It is a story about responsibility. It is a story about the delicate balance between jobs and profits against responsibility and worker safety.

The Radium Girls will be an excellent addition to classes in undergraduate and graduate courses in history, sociology,  business, and in even law and medical school classes.

I gave this this book a 4-Star review on Goodreads

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

Stuck in the Middle…of…pain

Sermon for Sunday, April 23, 2017

(Note: portions of material from the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero and its accompanying workbook of the same name was used in this sermon.  The reflection questions are from the workbook. That material is copyrighted by Pete and Geri Scazzero.)

Job 42:1-6

In this season of life, what is the greatest obstacle you face?

A young woman, recently married, fixed meat loaf for her husband one evening for dinner. As she prepared it, he noticed that she cut off both ends of the loaf and placed the remainder in the baking dish and threw the cut pieces into the trash.

He quietly asked her one evening after having the meat loaf, which he loved, for a third time, why she cut off the ends when the dish the meat loaf was baked in was large enough.

“I don’t know,” came the reply. “But is the way my mother made her meat loaf.”

Several months later, the couple had dinner with the wife’s family and meat loaf was on the menu. Her mother, as she had always done, cut both ends off and through the ends away. The action prompted the young woman to ask, “Why do you cut off the ends?”

“It’s the way I saw your grandmother do it and I figure that’s how meat loaf was prepared.”

Thanksgiving rolled around and while turkey was on the menu, so was grandma’s famous meat loaf. The young woman watched as her grandmother prepared the meat loaf and, just as she and her mother still did, grandma cut the ends off the meat loaf even though the glass pan was large enough for the entire loaf.

The young woman quickly moved to her grandmother’s side and asked, “Grandma, why do you cut off the ends of your meat loaf?”

Her grandmother laughed. “Oh, it is a habit that I have had for years even though the pan is big enough for the entire loaf. I often forget that I do it still.” I started doing it after your grandfather and I were married because the pan I used was too small for the size of the loaf I made. So I had to cut if off to make it fit.”

How many of us have done things like this? How many of us learned to do certain things a certain way in our younger days because that is what we saw demonstrated or were taught.

We learn a lot of interesting things as we grow up – from our families, friends, teachers, and life itself. And some of those things that we learn do not help us navigate life as we age and face tasks and situations that cause us problems. In fact, we find that they stress us and we have trouble coping with them and that nothing, including our faith seems to work and we respond in ways that frustrate us, cause us pain, makes us feel second class.

One of the things that I think about and pray about as the post-Easter season begins, is how do I as your pastor, help you live your faith in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit after Easter? I am vitally concerned that we are able to have a faith that helps us grow in our faith and trust in Christ and that includes dealing with attitudes, habits, and emotions which seem to take on a life of their own and cause us to wonder if we are truly Christian or not.

Here is what I mean…

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; 

His words are to the disciples who are confused by the conversation Jesus has just had with the Pharisees about what defiles a person. They were focused on the externals specifically in this chapter about why they did not wash their hands before they ate. (It was a ritual the Pharisees performed before they ate.) Jesus was looking deeper.

This is about our character and who we are becoming not how much we do for God, our families, or anyone else.

Part of having a resurrection faith, then, that helps us to become the person the Lord wants us to become, must get into our emotions and attitudes and change how we deal with and respond to difficult times. It’s not just about being saved, and that is important, it also about becoming more and more like Christ as the years go by.

Part of the challenge with regard to what I call an emotionally healthy faith, is being able to see and accept that some of the ways we have learned to deal with conflict, with pain, with significant loss, with fear, rejection, resentments, and our powerlessness, to name just a few, as we grew up, does not work anymore.

We need to learn a new and better way to deal with these issues and we need to find a freedom in Christ in which our past no longer influences our present.

 

The purpose of this series is to offer each of us information and inspiration that will help us find a new freedom and hope in Christ so that we are better able to cope with life in a manner that brings us a deeper peace and joy and helps us to live as Christ would have us live. A focus question will be part of each of these messages for the purpose of reflection and I plan to include a suitable song that I think fits the theme of the message for that week.

Today, that question is:

In this season of life, what is the greatest obstacle you face?

I want each of us to take a moment and write out your answer to this question. I am not going to ask for any responses. This is between you and God so be very honest with yourself and with the Lord.

This obstacle or obstacles often come suddenly and we are stunned and speechless…sometimes hopeless. And we are thrown into a dark hole, disoriented, disorganized, and overwhelmed.

The fear, the panic, the anxiety, are overwhelming.

We try to fix the situation…and we can’t.

We seek answers from others…and they don’t satisfy us

We pray and pray and pray…and God seems silent.

And all the while, we consciously or subconsciously, return to coping habits that we have relied on before…and they don’t work.

We have hit a wall and we must learn how to deal with that wall, whatever it is, and with the help and power of the Holy Spirit, face the wall and overcome that wall, whatever it is with a new way of responding, one which helps us to live despite the fear, anxiety, frustration, and the like that brings us to a place of peace and confidence in the Lord.

And sometimes this wall comes not because of terrible tragedy (although we will visit with someone whose hitting the wall was because of a tragedy that led his friends to believe he had done something terribly wrong and deserved it). No, hitting this wall  comes because the Lord is refining us, He is maturing us. It is often a very difficult experience for reasons I will state in a few moments:

The man I speak of is Job and our text for this morning is Job 42:1-6

Then Job replied to the Lord:

” I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

The first three chapters of Job give us a peek behind the curtain of the heavenly realms. People have been fascinated for centuries by the dialogue and action in the opening chapters of Job where Satan and God have a conversation and God allows Satan to afflict Job up to a certain point.

The next 34 four chapters features three rounds of dialogue between Job and his closest friends who sit with him in his mourning and loss. They think that he has done something wrong to deserve this and Job denies that he has.

Finally after a six chapter lecture by the young Elihu, for the next five chapters God humbles Job, rebukes Job’s friends, and restores the fortune of Job.

Our text is part of God’s humbling of Job and soon after this passage we note at the end of this final chapter, God restores Job and because of Job’s prayer on their behalf, God does not punish Job’s friends.

In this text, we are given some reasons why Job hit a wall, a time of terrible pain, loss, and confusion and he faced God at its end, even though his wife says to him, as noted in chapter 2 and verse 9 “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job refuses to do what his wife says for him to do.

Instead he faces this dark night and eventually faces God directly,

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

What’s the issue here for Job?

His limits, His powerlessness.

 

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

Job is a great man, one of the greatest men of the Bible. But God forces him to face his limitations, his powerlessness. He hits the wall because God allows Him to face a trying and terrible situation:

Job 1:9 through 12

“…the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.  “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

I know that we believe that Satan loves to tempt us and make us sin. He’s good at that.

But there is an equally important truth about moments when life is bleak and we’ve hit a wall– God is refining us.

Satan tempts us…to fail.

God tests us…to grow.

There is a difference.

Pete Scazzero has written a helpful definition of the wall and here it is:

“The wall is God’s way of renewing and “purging our affections and passions” so that we might delight in his love and enter into a richer, fuller communion with him. God works to free us from unhealthy worldly attachments and idolatries. He wants to communicate his true sweetness and love to us. He long for us to know his true rest and peace.”

Scazzero also summarizes the words of John of the Cross regarding what John says must be dealt with during these difficult moments because those who are going through it need to be rid of some tendencies that keep them from having a spiritually mature and emotionally healthy faith:

Pride: ”people who have pride have a tendency to condemn others and become impatient with their faults. They are very selective in how someone can teach them.

Avarice (or greed): They are discontent with the spirituality (we might say faith) always trying to gain more knowledge instead of being humble in spirit.

Luxury: they are more grateful for God’s blessings than God himself.

Wrath: easily irritated and have little patience to wait on God

Spiritual gluttony: they resist the cross and choose pleasures like children. Dying to their plans and desires is something they do not want to do.

Spiritual envy: they feel unhappy when others do well spiritually. They are always comparing.

Sloth: They run from that which is hard. Their aim is spiritual sweetness and good feelings.

These are hard words to hear, are they not? And I have committed these sins more often that I care to admit. And the Lord has had to humble me, not to beat me up and make me feel worse, NOT to shame me, but to show me what I need to get rid of that keep from fully following the Lord and enjoying Him and not just what He gives me!

An emotionally healthy faith is a faith in which God, through the Holy Spirit, refines us and helps us move beyond a prideful faith and all of the emotional problems that come with it – jealousy, envy, pride and the like.

So what Pastor, what do I get out of it?

When we ‘hit the wall’ it can become an opportunity to say “What needs to change in me, Jesus?”:

We face, and surrender our ability to be easily offended…and judgmental. And we live free to love and care. That brings a peace that we really want to have.

We learn to live with mystery. I do not have to know all the answers. I do not have to be in control, telling God what to do. I let go and I seek to follow Jesus, with love and grace each day, trusting Him to take care of me and my needs.

We wait on the Lord with greater patience. How many of us have something we really want the Lord to do? Change the life of someone we love for example. How many of us are helping God do that and it seems to make it worse?

Being, or trying to be in control, is one of the most difficult places to be in. For it seems that harder we try to control, the worst things become. The more we seek to be right and say do “it” this way, the more people stop speaking to us, they avoid us, they may even tell us to get lost, or something else.

We need to stop trying to control and fix everything in sight because it is not doing us any good and it is and has created walls of resentment and isolation and made things worse. We need to stop it…now and let go and let God have it. We are miserable because we cannot fix life…and if were honest, we resent God more and more because He is not doing what we think He should do.

 We let go of what is unnecessary and hang on to very few things. Scazzero wrote, quoting Thomas Merton, “The critical issue on the journey with God is not “Am I happy?” but “Am I free? Am I growing in the freedom God gave me?”

This is called detachment and going through moments of dark nights or hitting the wall, we learn that detaching from, letting go of, things which hold us back from experiencing the freedom that God has for us is part of those moments.

I am about done for this morning with this message.

(Some of you are thinking, Thank you Jesus, I have heard/read enough!)

I ask us this morning, as one who has gone through these difficult moments, and I am going through them right now in this season of life:

Are you free, are you at peace with where you’re at in your life right now? Are you free are you at peace with your faith in Christ?

We are going to spend some time in reflection on two questions as we conclude:

What is one thing that God might want you to unlearn and give up?

What habit?

What hurt?

What hang-up?

What is robbing you of a greater peace with God?

Here is the second question

What treasures might there be in the darkness or difficulties in your own life today?

The Lord has not, has.NOT left you to flounder in your wall hitting state and place.

He has something wonderful for you to discover, or re-discover in the darkness and pain of your current situation.

What might that be?

Write those two questions down on a piece of paper, use an offering envelope if necessary and spend the final moments of this message, praying and reflecting on them as we listen to Francesca Battistelli sing about a critical aspect of dealing with these dark moments of the soul – honesty

If you are stuck in the middle of pain today, this season, there is good that is beyond it…God is present in it with you… turn to Him

Thanks be to God for His wonderful love and grace!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Words…First Words

John 20:1-18

Easter Sunday Sermon by Jim Kane

Two days ago, Jesus’ final words were “It is finished” and He died. The grief-stricken followers laid His body in the grave and then waited until after Passover to properly prepare his body for burial. That next day, a Sunday morning, a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, went to the tomb to do what they could not do before sunset on Friday.

 

What greeted them, what they saw, experienced, and heard, changed them, and it continues to change all of humanity…if we believe what happened next is true.

 

This morning, in our final “Conversations at the Crossroads” we meet at the Crossroads of Life… Mary Magdalene

 

(A scripted conversation by Ted Schroder © 2016 and published by Creative Communications for the Parish was used.)

 

Listen again to what Mary said, “Here is the miracle, the miracle I would like you to share on this Easter morning. I did not find him. He found me. He came to me, even when I was so broken I could not recognize him. He came to me, spoke my name, healed my spirit and changed my life.”

Did you catch what Mary said? “I did not find him. He found me. He came to me, even when I was so broken I could not recognize him. He came to me, spoke my name, healed my spirit and changed my life.”

(from Easter Sunday: Life, from the series At The Crossroads: A Series of Services for Lent by Ted Schroeder, ©2016 Creative Communications for the Parish)

Among Jesus’ first words to Mary was this question, “Who is it you are looking for?” Not a “What are you looking for?” nor a “How may I help you?” question. A “Who are you looking for?” question.

 

It reminds me of Jesus’ question that He asked two of John the Baptist’s disciples who followed Him after John’s great proclamation, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  as noted in John 1: “What do you want?” or as it is translated in some versions of the Bible, “What do you seek?”

 

This is a different question.

 

Mary does not recognize Jesus standing right in front her! Yes Jesus has changed. He is different.

 

But Mary is blinded by her grief and pain and literally ‘cannot see straight.’

 

What a term, ‘cannot see straight.’

 

Our minds, our hearts are so preoccupied by our problems, our pain, our conflicts, that we often cannot see something or someone right in front of us! We cannot see straight, either!

 

But then Jesus speaks, He speaks one word to Mary and suddenly it all changes!

 

Verse 16, John 20:

 

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

 

We have had moments, haven’t we, when someone spoke our name, and in our confusion and turmoil, we heard more than a voice, we heard them. They have come to us. And order and clarity comes. We are re-oriented again.

 

Sometimes our names have been shouted…

 

JIM!

 

LINDA!

 

DAVE!

 

BARB!

 

Not in anger but in an effort to connect, for us to hear them!

 

(Is anybody home?)

 

I don’t think that Jesus raised His voice. I think that Jesus spoke it in a manner which expressed love and concern and it went through her ears into her brain and then into her heart and soul.

 

Mary…

 

Even though Jesus is not present with us today He still speaks our name from time to time. And in ways that is unmistakably His voice.

 

But, we often do not hear Him; His presence is near but we do not experience it.

 

Why?

 

Why is it hard to hear the Lord?

 

We have one good reason in our text this morning: grief.

 

Grief drives us into our selves, does it not? Grief throttles us. It shuts us down. Little if nothing, or anyone, gets into our conscious thought. Grief guards the doors of our mind, our heart, our soul. It is a very strong security guard.

 

Another thing, one that becomes apparent as we read the rest of the resurrection story but also what happens prior to Mary Magdalene’s encounter: disbelief

 

She first sees the empty tomb and then she runs to Peter “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

 

The shock, the horror, the disbelief!

 

THEY MOVED JESUS SOMEPLACE ELSE, PETER! WHERE IS HE?

 

Disbelief, can I think, lead to cynicism, despair, sarcasm, and eventually unbelief.

 

Didn’t that happen to Judas with his betrayal?

 

Wasn’t it happening to Peter as he denied knowing Jesus?

 

Do you see yourself in this story?

 

Can you identify with Mary in her grief and disbelief?

 

For the past seven weeks, I have read this words as part of the off-stage dialogue that has been part of these messages.

 

Crossroads. They are there for all of us. We may move along from day to day easily, walking in the sunshine, enjoying the view, feeling at peace. And then it comes. A crossroad. A choice point. There we stand, frozen to the spot. Which way now? Right? Left? Straight? What waits down each of those choices? Which way does our heart call us to go? Which makes sense? Which is God’s way?

 

The answers aren’t easy. A crossroad can bring daunting spiritual pain. And it can bring us to our knees. It can even bring us to destruction. And it can bring us to new life.

(from the introduction to the sermon dialogs by Ted Schroder © 2016 and published by Creative Communications for the Parish was used.)

Judas faced a crossroad…and he took the road which destroyed him.

 

Peter faced a crossroad… and he took the road of denial which caused him to run away until Jesus came to him and ask him if he still loved Him.

 

Mary, the mother of Jesus faced a crossroad…as she watched Her son, Jesus, die by execution on a cross.

 

We all face crossroad moments. But Jesus comes to us in those moments, too. Are we going to listen to Him?

 

We all face moments when we have a decision to make. One that affects our life, our families, our work, and our character.

 

Mary Magdalene faced a crossroad moment, a moment of decision, that Sunday morning when Jesus showed up, no longer dead but very much alive.

 

What did she choose to do in those moments?

 

What crossroad did she take?

 

Here is our text for this morning, John 20:1-18

 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.  So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.

 

Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.  Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.  (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)  Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

 

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

 

 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

 

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

 

 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

 

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

 

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

 

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

 

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

 

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

We all face a crossroad this morning…a crossroad of belief.

 

Do we believe that what John wrote is true?

 

Do we believe that Mary Magdalene existed?

 

Do we believe that Jesus rose from the dead?

 

If so, we are at a crossroad moment this morning.

 

If we believe that all of this is true, then what are we doing about it?

 

Simply nod and say yes we believe and go on with the rest of the day and our lives?

What do we do with this story?

 

Is it true or not?

 

If it is true for us…then we have a choice to make.

 

Either we are going to take the next step and make Jesus our God our savior our leader and walk down the road He points us to walk or turn down the road named “me” and keep doing what we have been doing.

 

I respectfully ask this morning, “Are you happy with the way your life is going or are you miserable?” “Are you smiling on the outside but breaking apart on the inside?”

 

“When you have crossroad moments, what is the basis for your decision making? Your way? Has it been working well for you? Or do you look back and see a trail of brokenness that has left you shattered?”

 

Mary Magdalene had a shattered life until Jesus showed up as noted after the fact in Luke 8:1-3:

 

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

 

Do you believe that Jesus can help you turn your life around?

 

Some of us are at a crossroad where we are having to decide if we still believe this story, if we still believe in Jesus and if we are still going to follow Him.

 

We’re tired. We’re frustrated, angry even. What we hear on Sundays or other days of the week, leaves us scratching our heads.

 

Life has not gone as well as we planned. There is too much month at the end of the money. Someone we care about is dying. Our health is fragile. Work, school is stressful.

 

The abundant life we were told we would have in Jesus has become an abundant burden.

 

We’re tired of it all.

 

Without splitting theological hairs, think about what faced Mary and the others that Sunday morning.

 

They faced a resurrected Jesus. He was back from the dead! They did not face a dead Jesus.

 

They had trouble believing it!

 

Matthew 28 and verses 16 and 17 “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.

 

In Luke 24:36-28 we read, “He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

 

If this group, who had been with Jesus, were challenged to believe in a resurrected Jesus, and Jesus sought to assuage those doubts and fears, cannot Jesus help us with our doubts and fears that chip away at our faith?

 

I invite you this morning to say Yes all over again to Jesus Christ. And I am going to ask you to come to the altar and simply stand in front of it as a statement of renewing your life to Christ.

 

I also invite those of you who perhaps struggle to believe or have quit believing in Jesus to say Yes to Jesus Christ. I invite you to come and stand here at the altar as a statement of renewing your life to Christ and your faith in Him.

 

I also invite those who want to start following Christ this morning to come to the altar as well as signaling the beginning of your walk with Him.

 

Folks, Jesus is alive and because He is, life can be better, not easier at times nor perfect at any time, but better because Jesus wants to walk the road of faith, hope, and live in Him and with Him.

 

Will you come to Jesus, come back to Jesus, or keep walking with Jesus today and every day from this day forward?

 

Jesus came to us, to humanity, to help us come to Him. For just as Jesus came to Mary in her moments of grief and confusion, He comes to us this morning through the Holy Spirit to offer us forgiveness, a second change, freedom from our past mistakes. Will you accept His offer?

 

Come. Come now.

 

Amen.

 

The Path of Silence in the Midst of Noise: Reflection on Lent 2017

When the word silence entered my conscious thought late last year as my One Word for 2017, I did not know nor even dream about where that word would lead me.

Correction, I had no idea where God would take me with this word.

But during the season of Lent, and really in the month before Lent began, God was already at work in requiring me

to be silent,

to live in silence in the midst of so much noise.

A hard, but necessary, even God directed conversation with my wife started the journey that took me into Lent and into the noisy wilderness

which in part, for me, required a going silent on social media.

silent as in, “no posting by me on any platform” (which I did except for a kuddos tweet and quirky photo on IG)

and a wrestling, as Jesus wrestled (well, like Jesus wrestled?), with anxiety, fear, resentment and a few other well-known (to me at least) travelers in my soul

Yet, the silence I encountered was golden

I would not, will not, trade for anything,  the insight, the peace, the clarity, even the healing pain, that I have experienced during this time.

I have begun to see with new eyes, hear with new ears, feel with a new heart, realize with a new soul…

And I cannot, WILL NOT, go back…