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.

November 6, 2017- Simple Faith in a Greater God- 1 John 4:4-5 (NRSV) Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

god wins

Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. 1 John 4:4-5 (NRSV)

 Thankfully, God is so often the champion of the underdog. We see evil in so many places and in so many experiences in this world that it’s easy to get discouraged.  Terrorism, random violence, not so random violence, drug addiction, poverty, natural disaster and disease are regular features in the news.

We wonder why. We ask God why these things go on in the world and why they don’t stop.  We wonder if evil really will win out.

So how can we believe in a greater God when we are so powerless in a world filled with heartbreak and evil and sin?

If this life in this temporary world was the only and final reality, then perhaps there would be cause for despair.

But we have a greater hope, not just for the end of days (or the end of our own personal days) but for now and always.

I hereby command you: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

 How can we keep on going on when we are afraid, depleted, discouraged, in pain, or just plain overwhelmed? How do we keep our faith and sanity when we see and experience the insanity that is so pervasive in our world?

God is with us. Have courage.

November 2, 2017 – White Robes, Apocalypse, and God Wins- Revelation 7:13-17, Mark 13:32-37

white robes

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”  I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;  for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:13-17 (NRSV)

Revelation is one of the books of the Bible that some people find confusing and intimidating. Apocalyptic (meaning “of the end times”) literature uses extreme imagery and symbolism to get the message across. Its purpose as written to its original audience (Romans living in the province of Asia in the late first century), however, is one of encouragement. The people to whom Revelation was addressed were living in a time when believers were routinely persecuted and killed for following Jesus. The perspective of Revelation is one that states that today might be really terrible, and there might be even more really terrible stuff happening in the near future, but the end of the terrible stuff is near, and the end turns out good for those who persevere. The graphic imagery that can be found in Revelation makes for some good pop fiction (remember the Left Behind novels?) and cheesy end of the world movies, but the message of Revelation has a much deeper purpose and meaning for those who follow Jesus.

As for the people robed in white, they are the ones who have gone before us in heaven. They are living in what is for us, the “not yet.”  We can take hope that no matter how bad things get here on earth, that the bad things going on here and now aren’t the final reality for us.  God’s plan for humanity and for the universe He created is one of redemption and restoration.

The caution that should be taken from apocalyptic literature is that the imagery used isn’t always meant to be literal. The imagery is supposed to make sure that the truth of the story sticks in one’s mind. When Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God” throughout Scripture, it is not meant that He is a sheep, but that He is the one perfect sacrifice made for all of us for all time.

There is a temptation in having the knowledge that “today is not forever” to give up on making things better where we are. That is not the intent behind the message of Revelation.  We aren’t supposed to give up on the here and now.  While the End of Days (or the end of our own personal days) can occur at any moment, only God knows the hour and the time.

(Jesus said): “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:32-37 (NRSV)

So the take away here is that we should be ready for any contingency, knowing that we know the end of the story: God wins. In this assurance we are free to embrace the ongoing work of bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth. We have the knowledge that the best is still to come.

September 29, 2017- Keep Us Out of Trouble, and Rescue Us From Evil- Matthew 6:13, Romans 8:37-39

temptation of Christ

And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13 (CEB)

The sixth and seventh petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are related. While Christianity is not a dualistic religion – we do not believe that the world, evil and Satan are equal to God- we do know that we are subject to the influence of sin and death while we live on this earth.

Whether you believe that Satan is a personal adversary or that he is more correctly viewed as a metaphor for the spirit of evil, the fact is that evil is real. Evil is too alive and well in this world and often we don’t have a good explanation for why evil continues to exist.  We don’t have the answer to why God allows evil to exist in this world.   We can only have faith that:

..in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NRSV)

We do know that we fall into temptation easily enough though. We are constantly subject to temptations of the flesh, temptations of the world, and temptations of Satan and evil.

For in the flesh we dwell and carry the old Adam about our neck, who exerts himself and incites us daily to inchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, avarice and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him, and, in short, to all manner of evil lusts which cleave to us by nature, and to which we are incited by the society, example and what we hear and see of other people, which often wound and inflame even an innocent heart…

Next comes the world, which offends us in word and deed, and impels us to anger and impatience. In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, enmity, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, raillery, slander, pride and haughtiness, with superfluous finery, honor, fame, and power, where no one is willing to be the least, but everyone desires to sit at the head and to be seen before all…

Then comes the devil, inciting and provoking in all directions, but especially agitating matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs, namely, to induce us to despise and disregard both the Word and works of God to tear us away from faith, hope, and love and bring us into wrong belief, false security, and obduracy, or, on the other hand, to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are indeed snares and nets, yea, real fiery darts which are shot most venomously into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil. – from the explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

Nobody needs any help finding temptation. From the smallest temptations- from wanting to snarf down that nice little bit of ice cream or chocolate we know we don’t need, or being enticed to something as devastating as stealing or engaging in infidelity, we need the Lord’s help to resist and avoid such things.

We need to ask for God’s protection from Satan and evil as well. Although Satan and evil can devastate us here on earth, they hold no power against God and His kingdom.

In the Greek text this petition reads thus: Deliver or preserve us from the Evil One, or the Malicious One; and it looks as if He were speaking of the devil, as though He would comprehend everything in one so that the entire substance of all our prayer is directed against our chief enemy. For it is he who hinders among us everything that we pray for: the name or honor of God, God’s kingdom and will, our daily bread, a cheerful good conscience, etc.

Therefore we finally sum it all up and say: Dear Father pray, help that we be rid of all these calamities. But there is nevertheless also included whatever evil may happen to us under the devil’s kingdom — poverty, shame, death, and, in short, all the agonizing misery and heartache of which there is such an unnumbered multitude on the earth. For since the devil is not only a liar, but also a murderer, he constantly seeks our life, and wreaks his anger whenever he can afflict our bodies with misfortune and harm. Hence it comes that he often breaks men’s necks or drives them to insanity, drowns some, and incites many to commit suicide, and to many other terrible calamities. Therefore there is nothing for us to do upon earth but to pray against this arch enemy without ceasing. For unless God preserved us, we would not be safe from him even for an hour.- from the explanation of the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

When we pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer it is good to remember these key points:

  1. God’s Name is holy. It is given to us to address God.
  2. God’s Kingdom is here, and it also on its way to being fulfilled on earth.
  3. God’s will is going to be done, so Lord, help us get on board with it.
  4. God provides for us DAILY, our food, and our needs. We need Him every day.
  5. Forgive others as God forgives us, it brings healing for our souls.
  6. Keep us from temptation because it’s all around us and we want to stay clear of it.
  7. Keep us from the influence of Satan and evil.

Have we thanked God for providing for us in every way today?