Message June 16, 2019- God is Good When Life is Good

life is good

And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14 (ESV)

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe.  And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. Joshua 4:1-9 (ESV)

When life is good, remember the Lord. Sometimes we get so preoccupied with enjoying life that we forget to thank God and know that it is only by His grace and by His hand that we live and that we can enjoy life, family and creation.  The mountaintop experiences are amazing, but for the most part we live life in the valleys.  We set up our remembrances while we are on the mountaintop so that we can reflect when times are not so good, and say, “Look what God has done for us.”  We don’t generally put stones in rivers, but we do take pictures and buy souvenirs.  Sometimes we leave something of ourselves behind- a signature, or a coin, or a dollar bill with a catty saying scribbled on it, so that others will know we were there. Son of Thurman’s in Delaware has dollar bills with various scribbling and signatures on them all over the dining room- on the seats, the walls, everywhere, there are commemorations of visits from people from time past.  We can see who was there in July of 2014 or March of 2009.

We put up memorials to commemorate those who served in the military and have parades so we will not forget them or their service to our country. We celebrate the building of new homes and buildings. Often the owners or contractors of a building will set up some sort of plaque to remember who funded the building and for what purpose it is dedicated.

God commanded the Israelites to set up the twelve stones in the Jordan so they would not forget what He has done for them, to commemorate their passing into the Promised Land.

What kinds of things do we celebrate? As a nation, as a church, as a family?  How do we celebrate when life is good?

God has shown love and mercy to our ancestors, and He shows His love to us, just as He did to the twelve tribes of Israel.

We don’t need to be afraid of the things that seem so much larger than us- people who don’t have our best interests at heart, bad circumstances, things that would defeat us, because God is with us. He is with us when we celebrate, and when we mourn.

God is our refuge- Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:8 (ESV)

God, Our Mighty Fortress – Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy- Psalm 61:1-3 (ESV)

God is good when life is good.

God is good when we remember where we came from. Our families are important.  Our faith is often handed down and strengthened through our family, whether we share genetic bonds or simply bonds of the heart.

We share our good times and remember our victories with our families. We commemorate events and memorialize them together as a culture, as a country and as families.  We celebrate holidays and birthdays- and special days like today (Father’s Day) together.  As God’s family, the church, we remember God’s story that has been written down for us in Scripture.  We learn that ultimately God is the hero of the story, no matter the circumstances and no matter who the characters in the story may be.

Most importantly, we know the end of the story. God wins!  Jesus won when He died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead.  We will be with Him to celebrate His victory over sin, death and the devil, forever in the new heaven and new earth.  God is preparing us for life forever with him even as we live in this world of now, but not yet.

There are more celebrations coming for those who have faith in God. The apostle John was shown a glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth as he tells us in the book of Revelation:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5 (ESV)

We may not be able to imagine exactly what our future life and joy with the Lord may look like, but we can trust that it will be good. Even as we celebrate the joys and mourn the sorrows of this life here and now, we hold on to the promises of God.  We trust God like Abraham trusted God, like David trusted God, not because we are such fantastic people, but because God is faithful.  God is good, all the time.

June 18, 2019 – Jesus Prays for Us- John 17:6-10, Matthew 10:34-39, Psalm 139:16

Jesus-prays

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” John 17:6-10 (ESV)

It’s kind of a strange – but encouraging- thought that Jesus prays for us and intercedes for us.   After all, Jesus taught us to pray to God the Father for all that we need.  Then He prays for us that we would be one, as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are one.  Jesus is personal.  He does not just observe us from a distance.  He is with us and near us always no matter what we might think or feel about His presence.

Jesus knows first hand how difficult life in this world is.  He knows that there is much division and infighting between believers and others in the world and that it is not always easy to be one of His own in this world.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.   Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)

We need Jesus’ prayers and intercession.  Thankfully there is nothing we can do that He doesn’t anticipate.  The hairs on our heads are numbered.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV)

Take comfort in this life that Jesus prays for us.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  God the Father together with the Son and Spirit- God the Three in One- planned our existence and knew everything about us long before we ever drew a breath.

August 1, 2017 “Just Me-n-Jesus?” Philippians 4:10-15

me n jesus

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone.  Philippians 4:10-15 (NRSV)

I can do all things in Him (Jesus) who strengthens me. (verse 13)

Verse 13 of the above passage from Philippians is often picked out and quoted on its own. Yes it is true that Jesus is our Strength, but that shouldn’t make us infer that the journey of following Jesus is just a “me-n-Jesus” sort of proposition.

In our country we have been conditioned to prize our independence, which is not always a bad thing. No one wants to be a mindless lemming that just goes along with the group without thinking about what the group is doing. Many people are also wired to be introverted, which means a little socialization goes a long way, as introverts primarily recharge their batteries by getting away from people and being alone.  Jesus Himself did this at times.  He went off to pray and fast by Himself quite often.  Taking times of solitude- in moderation- can be a healthy discipline.

It can be unwise to think we are too independent though. Not only do we move and breathe and have our strength because those things all come from God, we were created to live and operate in community.  Not just “me-n-Jesus,” but “me-n-Jesus AND the greater community,” is how it’s supposed to work.

This means we are supposed to engage in dialogue. We are supposed to contribute to the life and the well being of our families and communities.  We are, like the apostle Paul did, supposed to accept help from others when we need it.  We are called to the drama and the messiness of belonging to a community and participating in the life of the community.

We do encounter Jesus in the solitude of prayer and study, and those disciplines are important to our growth in understanding and faith. Yet there are some who will say things such as, “nature is my church,” and who claim to not need the fellowship and the encouragement of a Christian community.  Unfortunately when we miss out on being part of a community, we miss out on a vital way of connecting with God, and we miss out on sharing the strength and encouragement of others.

How can we live out our lives as Jesus followers and rely on His strength both one-on-one with Him in solitude, study, contemplation and prayer, AND in community, alongside fellow believers?

February 22, 2017- Treasure and the Heart – Matthew 6:19-21

treasures

(Jesus said:)“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NRSV)

The love of money is said to be the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10.)  Yet money and material possessions are in and of themselves good gifts of God, and in and of themselves they are morally neutral.  How we regard and use them is what renders their use as being good or evil.

What exactly would we define as a treasure?  Our bank accounts, our homes, our cars, our jewelry, phones, or heirlooms?  Those things are good and useful and are wonderful gifts of God, but are they the things that really matter and really last?  After all we are born with no material possessions, and there are no material possessions that can go with us along for the ride when we die.

Jesus is asking us to look at the true treasures of life- the love of God, our families and friends, and the joy of doing the good things that God created us to do.  Those are treasures that money can’t buy and that last forever, beyond the circles of this world, into eternity in Heaven.