April 5, 1992
Hearing the Story Again
(Isaiah 43:16-21)
It is amazing how often people miss the very things they need most — and these things are right under their noses. Perhaps this is why the Bible seems to tell the same stories again and again, though often in different context. For instance, Paul in his letters to the churches, often harkens back to stories about Abraham or Elijah (see Romans 11, for instance). It seems people of faith need to hear their faith stories over and over.
Isaiah 43:16-21, the text for today, remembers this principle of repeating a powerful story. As we read the Old Testament, we must have noticed the foundational story for Israel was the Exodus. Like those Hebrews centuries earlier, the situation of Isaiah’s people is also one of despair.
The Golden Age of Israel had come to an abrupt end. The people have little hope and have to deal daily with their oppressors. They have forgotten the source of both their lives and their hope. Thus, the focus of Isaiah’s message in this passage is upon the redemption of Israel. Isaiah does this by reminding his Hebrew contemporaries they already have a redemption story — the Exodus — a story given to them by their God.
This may be one of the reasons worship is so central to the people of faith. In worship, the faith community gathers to hear the story of God’s redemptive love for God’s people. The Psalter, often called the Hymnbook of the Bible, has many songs which refer to God’s mighty acts on behalf of God’s people. By remembering “their story,” the Hebrews of Isaiah’s time discover the power against despair and it is right under their noses.
If God has helped His people before, then their hope can rest on God’s promise that He will act again. After all, this is a God who “makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” and makes “rivers in the desert” (Isa. 43:16). If there is hope for this “new” generation of Hebrews it rests in this God — a God bringing His people through the wilderness.
There is a certain sense in which we might say many people today are living in a wilderness of despair. Only a society of pervasive hopelessness could develop so many despairing escapes like we have. Everywhere people are searching for relief from the pain of despair, but many are looking in the wrong places. Marriage after marriage, infidelity, alcohol and drug abuse are all symbolic of a people lost in a wilderness of their own making.
The Prodigal Son story from Luke is another Exodus story. A son leaves home, wanders aimlessly seeking something he knows not, and finally comes to himself returning home. Augustine said it well: “our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee.”
During the season of Lent, all of us examine our own personal wilderness: empty places in our barren lives. We as a church must help our society hear and remember the story of faith which will save us all from the desert wilderness. The book of Hebrews calls Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” This is the one who will lead us and guide us through the wilderness for all people. Good Friday is where Jesus encounters death. Easter confirms that He makes it to the other side of death in glorious resurrection.
The Hebrews have an Exodus story which defeats despair and Isaiah remembers it well. We Christians have such a story, too. It is the story of Jesus who bring us restoration, redemption, and hope. (DM)
April 12, 1992
In Expectation
(Luke 19:28-40)
Though stories from scripture may be familiar, they are never predictable. When we walk into the pages of the Bible we can expect one thing – the unexpected. Palm Sunday/ Passion Sunday is no exception. This gospel lesson of Lent is as full of surprise as any Advent passage.
Lent, like Advent, is a time of preparation. Though during these penitential seasons we rarely feel penitential, the scriptures remind us otherwise. In Advent, preparing for Christ’s birth, the lessons reinforce the reality that death precedes life. Many of Advent’s prophecies focus on the signs of the end time. The doom and gloom of these sobering pictures of the future serve to highlight the luminous nature of Christmas.
Lent, too, centers on Christ’s suffering and passion preceding the resurrection’s intense light. Lent and Advent serve warning. One hardly expects the worship time preceding Christmas and Easter to be moments of forewarning. Yet in God’s realm, nothing is as it appears. The reversal of human expectations is always at the heart of God’s message to His people.
I was reminded of this recently in a graphic way. Near my home, a man was out hunting for discarded antique bottles in a wooded area. Apparently, he encountered a nine-point buck. Inexplicably, the deer attacked this 53-year-old man and he died of a heart attack. His death did not deter the deer, which continued the attack. Reports received from newspapers related the man’s blood was spread over a large area. He received hundreds of puncture wounds. Animal rights people may see this as a victory for deer but to most people it was a strange tragedy. It serves as a stern reminder; human expectations can be quickly twisted and reversed.
Today the church celebrates Palm/Passion Sunday. Worship today reminds us that human expectations are always provisional in the gospel’s light. What does Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem mean for us? How does the suffering of Christ during Passion Week affect our lives and expectations?
In Jesus’ day, Jewish people had expectations for Messiah’s coming. Visited upon the people were legions of indignities, both individually and nationally. Their hope in a Messiah after the fashion of David’s monarchy sustained them, for during his reign Israel enjoyed the “golden years.” Each time tragedy struck, the people would pray, “But when the Messiah comes ….” They yearned for David’s glory days.
People caught in oppression’s grip are sustained through extraordinary vision. The Jewish nation suffered mightily. It anticipated salvation and this given by a mighty deliverer. We look for salvation today, too. Of course, our oppression has mostly to do with the structural framework within which we live our lives. Our demons are not Babylon, Assyria, or Rome, but our demons plague us nonetheless. Many today have a decidedly pessimistic interpretation of life. We tend to be fatalistic. We embrace the notion that all life can give us is more of the same. Often we accept what life brings with a resigned shrug of the shoulders or wince of the will.
Luke’s triumphal entry story reveals a God doing new things — in God’s own unanticipated way. This story indicates the Messiah will indeed ride into Jerusalem redeeming God’s people, but not the way expected. No dignitaries gather for the palm parade. Rather it is the poor, the old, and the children — which Luke calls the “multitude of disciples” — who line the dusty road. It is not Messiah mounted on a gallant war horse, but this Jesus sits on a colt. There are no weapons attached to the saddle, for He sits on cloaks provided by those who receive Him. The weapons are righteousness and justice for all people, tempered by divine love.
The downside to Palm Sunday is that our own expectations of Messiah are also stood on head. Jesus’ disciples do not realize what is happening until later — after the resurrection. Palm Sunday is a glorious day celebrating the Messiah taking Jerusalem, but not by storm. His conquest is humble and meek. Jesus’ parade is a death march; an ironic death, setting free God’s people. The thorns and rags He wears remind us that this King has no majestic trappings of golden crown or royal robes.
In many old sanctuaries, having old-style stained glass windows, an incontrovertible truth is depicted. Jesus is shown with open arms, cradling a lamb or teaching the children. This vision of Christ’s peace is what the gospel offers to a broken world. It truly passes all understanding. Between this moment in our lives, and this beautiful vision incarnate in the gospel’s ultimate fulfillment, stands much living.
Jesus’ triumphal march into Jerusalem also suggests He goes before and beside us. Where Christ’s parade transports us, we do not know. Only this do we know: Christ goes with us in all life’s places. Palm/Passion Sunday reflects both sides of the same coin: that life in faith has its cost, but this life is redeemable in ways we hardly imagine.
The triumphal entry of Christ occurs when the Messiah parades into our hearts and claims our lives. When this occurs the greatest expectation then claims our lives. (DM)
April 19, 1992
Personal Easters
(John 20:1-31)
The resurrection is meant to be taken personally. It was to individuals that Jesus made His way after He emptied the tomb. It was one at a time.
How unAmerican this is! We are so caught up in the masses. We delight in mobs. The multitudes enthrall our fancies. Flashbulbs, reporters, headlines. They bait us so alluringly.
Yet with the Easter story, it is not that way at all. We read of Mary knowing. Then there is an appearance to two. Peter comes under the spell. The beloved disciple draws near. Even the eleven could not be counted as a mob. Identities were so crucial to that first Sunday dawn following the horror show of Good Friday. It was the individuality which stood out.
This should remind us then that He would indeed have died just for one — you. He would have risen from the dead for one — you.
J. B. S. Monsell has written:
Then let thy life through all its ways
One long thanksgiving be,
Its theme of joy, its song of praise,
“Christ died, and rose for me!”
Forget the Easter parade with its throngs, for the resurrection presence is set loose just for you and you and you. He would have come back from death just to call your name.
The resurrection is meant to be taken for its peace. Mary is caught crying. So much of our lives is made up of weeping. The newspapers, television news and newsmagazines scream to us of famine, fires and floods. We are overcome with abuse, agony and aloneness.
That is why you and I strain so desperately for a party. We sport our TGIF buttons. We dazzle beneath the neon lights downtown. We spot an ad with beautiful women and handsome men in party hats surrounded by balloons.
Mary Magdalene was a card-carrying member of the human race: she was weeping. How realistic and intricate is the Easter story: the wail of desperation confronts the Prince of Peace on His first morning out. John 20 reminds us of this tender package wrapped up in love. Please, do not let Cecil B. DeMille get hold of it. There is no need for the mob scene at the empty tomb — horses, chariots, soldiers with armor clashing! Keep it simple, gentle.
The peace is overwhelming if you permit it — one by one — just Jesus and Mary.
Jesus would have come back from the grave just for you to know His peace, too. He would want to speak calm to your frenzy, serenity to your stress. Therefore, do not get so lost in the daily news that you miss Him standing there alongside you. Do not so desire the world’s parties that you miss His. Stay close to Jesus; there is lasting peace with Jesus.
Will you ever weep again? Yes. And wonder? Yes. And ask why? Yes. Yet you will do so with the comfort of knowing He knows, too.
The resurrection is meant to be understood with passion. It was longingly that Jesus spoke with conviction when He invited the suspicious to touch Him. “He showed His hands and side.” It was Show-and-Tell Time, Look-and-See Time. The Christian faith is founded upon fact, history, event. It is not a hope-so religion. It is a know-so faith.
Other religions of the world are weavings of this and that, gropings within the imaginings of questing hearts, hypotheses dreamed upon a morning. Atop these searchings stands Jesus. He speaks certainty when He says, “See, here are my nailprints. Touch my side for yourself.”
It is the passionate look upon His face which implores us to know His badge of blood-letting. He is the Lamb of God who was slain. He is the one who saw through the scripture which tells of the need for shedding blood to find forgiveness. It was Jesus who willingly gave Himself as a bloody ransom.
Now, on the other side of Calvary, Jesus proclaims that the cross is done with. The mockery is over. The blasphemy finished!
There in their places are the fresh wounds. For what purpose? To bring healing — passionately — to our weary souls.
Can you imagine the thrill of watching disciples that morning and first evening? They responded with like passion: “the disciples were overjoyed.” Tears. Hands clapping. Broad smiles. Glancing eyes from one another. Peering. Reaching. Brushing the brow with wonder! So you are invited as well to come to the Jesus party. Come and see! Does it not excite your conviction to follow closely to this Jesus who asks you to touch Him as He reaches out to touch you?
How many times have we needed that touch — bent, confused, wondering about the meaning of it all, aching, hurt and distraught. Then it was that we cried out to touch Him; we wanted Him to touch us with strength, faith — passionately.
Tommy Dorsey, the jazzman and gospel song writer, was singing at a revival meeting in St. Louis when he got awful news. This young, married performer was handed a telegram which read: “Your wife is dead.”
The place was packed. People were dancing, rejoicing in the Lord, asking for another song from the entertainer. But he had just been handed the shock of his young adult life. She was gone.
He had left her back home in her last month of pregnancy. The last look into her face was Nettie sound asleep. All seemed well. But now everything was coming apart — quickly, without care.
Hastily, Tommy clamored back to Chicago, entered into her room and found her. She had given birth to a son, but within a day he died, too. Both were buried in the same casket.
Tommy fell apart in his soul. Where was God? This was too much pain. How could he any longer believe in the God preached by His Bible-carrying father? Quits. Done with. Alone, without peace.
The following Saturday he meandered close to a piano, sat down and started to fiddle with the keys. It was nothing he had gone over before; the words were fresh, the melody simply appearing, then flowing from a burdened, questing heart in search of Jesus:
Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn,
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.1
Then it was that Tommy Dorsey knew he touched Him — and was touched by Him. On that Saturday, Easter Sunday came alive to the gospel singer.
“And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day when He will take my hand and gently lead me home,” he told a friend afterward.
This Easter, reach out and touch Jesus. He invites you to know His peace — one by one — each of you. See Him? Come to Him. It is Easter. (JGS)
1. Take My Hand, Precious Lord by Thomas A. Dorsey, copyright 1938 by Hill & Range Songs, Inc. Copyright renewed and assigned to Unichappel Music, Inc. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
April 26, 1992
Peace for a Doubting Thomas
(John 20:19-31)
1. The Peace of His Injured Humanity.
A group of senior citizens at a retirement home was having a great time discussing their various aches, pains, and ills. One had arthritis; another indigestion (or was it an ulcer?); a third complained about insomnia. And on and on it went. Finally an 85-year-old man said: “Think of it this way, my friends. It just proves that old age isn’t for sissies.”1
And being a Christian isn’t for sissies either!
Frightened and confused, the followers of Jesus huddled together behind locked doors. They hadn’t been sleeping well. The horrors of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, torture, and execution were too immediate and real for them. The incredible reports of an empty tomb and of Mary Magdalene’s vision or hallucination added to their inner turmoil. “Could it be true?” they wondered. “Could it possibly be true?” Could Jesus be alive? Or is it all a trick to bring us out into the open so the authorities can arrest us and murder us as well?”
“Shalom,” said Jesus. Shalom — the most common greeting in Palestine then and now.
Three times during his brief visit to His fearful disciples, Jesus says “Shalom.” He wouldn’t have repeated it if they had gotten the message the first time. He wouldn’t have offered peace to his friends if they already had it. Peace is a slippery commodity. No matter how tenaciously one clings to it, it always slips away. Yet it is infinitely renewable — if one knows how to find it.
What is God’s Shalom? What is the “peace of God” of which we often speak and for which we frequently pray? Shalom means hello and goodbye and so much more. In the Old Testament, shalom is wholeness or well being. To have peace is to have security and prosperity. To have peace is to live in a land committed to justice. Peace exists between people or between people and God. The idea of peace as individual harmony with God or inner spiritual tranquility is alien to the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, peace is the absence of strife or conflict. Peace is associated not with prosperity and security but with righteousness, grace, mercy, joy, love, and life itself. Without such spiritual endowments there is no peace. Without peace, no spiritual endowments.
Peace is God’s gift to humanity. Through the sacrifice of His son, He has broken down the wall of separation between heaven and earth. In Jesus the Christ, God is with us and for us. We are a forgiven, restored people and, in consequence, a forgiving and restoring people.
God’s gift of peace is the very heart of the Easter message. The world is a place of trial and tribulation, of suffering and dying. On Planet Earth it is always Good Friday. Yet in the midst of death, we are renewed. In the crushing coils of mortality, we are daily born anew. The God of hope and the hope of God fill us with peace. At the heart of the blackness is a light so bright and penetrating that it cannot be hidden. In us and between us, it is always Easter Sunday. Alleluia!
2. The Peace of the Spirit.
“Shalom,” he said the second time and told them both to “go” and to “receive.” This shalom means “Pack now! Get ready to go! I am sending you.” This shalom also means “Pack right! Go well equipped!” He gave them the Spirit. And this shalom means “Pack light! Get rid of the excess baggage!” Having the Spirit is simple. Being spiritual is being forgiven by God and returning the favor by forgiving others.
Is that too simple? Would you prefer supernatural endowments like speaking in tongues or the power to work miracles or the strength of Samson or the ability to raise the dead? John lets Jesus cut to the chase. Being spiritual is saying “thank you” to God, accepting your acceptance. Being spiritual means reaching out to others in the powers of that acceptance. Being spiritual means being welcoming and accepting to others.
He breathed on them. They each took a deep breath of their own. Join them now. Take a deep breath. As they exhaled, they imagined that all the fear, uncertainty, guilt, and tension of the past days flowed down and out of them like water into the ground. They inhaled and felt new strength, vigor, and vitality flow into their bodies. They exhaled again, letting go of all their anger and hostility — toward one another, toward the cruelty of life and fate, toward those who did not meet their expectations. They let go of disappointment and frustrations. They drew another breath, and as they did they felt God’s forgiveness, God’s peace uniting them with Him, with one another. They felt safe and secure in God’s embrace and reached out to enfold one another in a circle of reunion.
3. The Peace of Not Getting What You Want But Getting What You Need
“Shalom,” He said a third time and told them and us to stop doubting and to trust.
The New Testament story of Thomas, as brief as it is, is a story of courage, loyalty, and limitation. When Jesus told His disciples of His determination to go to Jerusalem, they protested that such a move could cost Him His life (11:8). It was Thomas who declared, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (11:16). When Jesus predicted that He would go ahead of them to His Father’s house and there prepare places for them, it was Thomas who objected, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (14:1,5). And now in this locked room, Thomas speaks again, speaks the words that will forever brand him as “Doubting Thomas”: “Unless I see … I will not believe.”
What an injustice history has done this brave, honest man. John tells us that his nickname was “the Twin.” If he is anyone’s twin, he is yours and mine. Call him Frightened Thomas. Call him Confused Thomas. Call him Practical Thomas. Call him Seeking Thomas. We should have no difficulty identifying with his fear, his confusion, his struggle.
He needed neither more nor less than any of us. He did not need theological argumentation or airtight evidence. He needed the presence of the living Christ.
The point of the story of Thomas’ doubt is simple: Believing is seeing. That is not so strange. It is a teacher’s belief in a student that transforms a mediocre pupil into a scholar, a “discipline problem” into a self-respecting individual. It is that student’s belief in his or her own specialness that works the magic of transformation — that continues to work the magic for years and years to come. Because Mr. Johnson (or Miss Jones) believed in me, I found that I could believe in myself. The hard-hearted, hard-nosed, bottom-line-watching world says, “Seeing is believing.” But the heart knows better. It knows “Believing is seeing.”
“I will not believe unless …” declared Thomas. Jesus paid no attention to Thomas’ mental reservations. He ignored Thomas’ need to work out his own infantile faith. Jesus offered Thomas what Thomas really needed – himself. It is the courage to risk intimacy that silences doubt. It is the giving and accepting of love that settles the demand for certainty.
In the words of Jewish novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer: “Doubt is part of all religion. All the religious thinkers were doubters.” Casanova recognized, “Doubt begins only at the last frontiers of what is possible.” Einstein felt that while certainty is of value, “the important thing is not to stop questioning.” Wilson Mizner observed, “I respect faith, but doubt is what gives you an education.” And Francis Bacon echoed, “If a man will begin with certainties, he will end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he will end in certainties.” And, finally, the most profound word about the triumph of courage over doubt was spoken by Thomas Carlyle: “If you are ever in doubt as to whether or not you should kiss a pretty girl, always give her the benefit of the doubt.”
Thomas had insisted that God meet his expectations. He learned that God is at large. God is free and full of surprises. God is on the loose. Alleluia! (LDS)
1. Adapted from Parables, Etc., April, 1991, p. 1.
May, 3, 1992
Commissioned of God
(Acts 9:10-16)
We remember Paul like some great Paul Bunyan striding across the pages of history — planter of churches, defender of the faith, courageous and suffering missionary, bringing Christianity to a firm foundation in Europe. There is a greatness about him none of us could ever even hope to equal in our service for God.
Yet there is another side to Paul. It’s the road less traveled by. We remember the part of his call, “He will bear my name.” We have lost sight, because of our perspective, of how much he has to suffer. We remember Paul from the perspective of history and the results of his accomplishments. But at the end of Paul’s life, all the things he had accomplished were not in focus in any way whatsoever.
Acts closes with him in prison in his own hired house. They couldn’t even give him a cell. He had to pay for his own place and he was unable to go about freely but could only preach and teach those who came to him. We remember Paul like we do Colonel Sanders. When we think of Colonel Sanders we think “He became a millionaire after he became a senior citizen. There’s hope for all of us.” Yet when he was interviewed on TV, the Colonel didn’t talk about how much he was paid for his chicken franchise empire, about the secret recipe, nor drop any hint about how many chicken legs had been fried and consumed. He talked about driving on two-lane blacktop roads without a line down the middle; he had all his business in the trunk of his car, begging somebody to cook with his chicken recipe and sell it.
If you come to Paul in Rome and say, “Paul, you’ve had a great life,” he will say, “It’s calmed some now.” “Aren’t you victorious, Paul?” “I got out of Philippi alive.” Paul was conscious not of achievement but of handicap and pain.
He had two great handicaps. The first was one of guilt. When Paul was converted, he didn’t need a little attitude adjustment, he needed a 180 degree turnaround; and he could never forgive himself for being so stupid. He had persecuted the church of Jesus Christ. He had read God completely wrong. This is why he says, “I am the least of all the saints because I persecuted the church.” That’s not an artificial humility but is a genuine sense of guilt. He knew God had forgiven him but, like many of us, he couldn’t forgive himself for being so stupid.
The other handicap was health. He talks about something wrong with him that others could detect. It was like a thorn in the flesh. He’s too private a person to tell us what it was, just that it was and he prayed about it. But in spite of his handicaps, where the penny really drops is when you begin to look at his experiences.
He’s converted in Damascus and immediately begins to preach. The result was he had to be let down in a basket over the wall, which is the way they took garbage out on some occasions — not the noblest way to leave town. He goes to Jerusalem and preaches — he’s too hot for the Christians there; he stirs up too much opposition. They send him to Tarsus — he gets along all right. He goes to Antioch — gets along all right. He goes to Cyprus on his first missionary venture — where he has a rather ugly encounter with a local magician. He goes to Antioch in Turkey — he was reviled and had to leave. He goes to Iconium — they try to stone him. He goes to Lystra — they do stone him. Then he goes to Derbe — evidently gets along all right. That’s four out of nine.
Now his average goes down considerably. He goes to Philippi — winds up in jail. He goes to Thessalonica — there’s a riot, a Christian is put under a peace bond and he leaves town. He goes to Berea — he meets some noble Christians who ask him to leave because his presence is causing trouble.
He goes to Athens — he meets some philosophers of the Epicurean and Stoic groups and they say, “What is this expert in trivia trying to say?” They use a Greek word — translated in the King James as “babbler” — which describes the action of a little bird picking up seeds. Some of them say, “What is this fellow who just has little seeds of knowledge trying to say; he’s crazy isn’t he?” “Well listen to him again sometime” but they didn’t and no church was started there — he was despised.
He goes to Corinth — eighteen months, and everything’s fine but he is then hauled before Gallio, the proconsul, and leaves Corinth. He goes to Ephesus — works two years, culminates in a riot and an illegal assembly of citizens in the theater. The magistrate says, “We’ve got to disband this. Well be held accountable to Rome.” They disbanded; Paul left. He goes to Corinth — they plot to murder him
Goes to Tarsus — get along fine; he only stays one night which is marred by his preaching too long and a young man falls out a window to the pavement below. He goes to Jerusalem — to straighten everything out. There’s a riot in the Temple area, he is arrested by the Romans and hauled away to Caesarea, where he spends two years in prison while they hope to get some bribe from him. After an arduous voyage, he gets to Rome and Acts closes with him being in prison two years, able to speak only to those who can come to him. That’s five out of twenty — not a very good track record.
If this is his experience, how did he make it? What kept him from getting bitter? Why didn’t he declare emotional Chapter 11? Why didn’t he develop chronic fatigue syndrome? Why didn’t he become the Ralph Nader of his world — retire to Tarsus and start writing books about the injustices which were going on? Why didn’t he do this? He not only endured, he endured without getting bitter. He didn’t burn out nor quit. “Paul, how do you keep your dreams alive when your life turns into a nightmare?”
That’s what he models for us. In spite of all of this, he’s a personal success — not in terms of achievement (from one jail to another and one expulsion to another). When he is before Agrippa (Acts 26:9), Agrippa says, “You’re trying to make a Christian out of me.” And Paul, in a moment, gives us a window of truth into his soul. He says, “Oh, king, I wish everybody here were just like me, except for these chains” and rattles them. What a sense of personal victory in the midst of such a nightmare!
We are so inundated with bad news we can’t properly pray for all we receive. We’ve forgotten about some big things such as the savings and loan crisis, the global warming, AIDS, etc. Add to this, all our personal troubles. I knew Murphy’s law was right, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” But I learned O’Toole’s law which is “Murphy was an optimist.” We feel like the poet of Princeton, W. R. Ammons, when he said, “I wish to be declared a national disaster area.”
Add to that the complexity of life and the fragility of hope. Life is so complex. American demographics report 98% of the people who own VCRs don’t know how to program them. We live in a constant sense of frustration and confusion. It’s no wonder in the typical pharmacy the largest prescribed medicine is a tranquilizer — “dull my sense of reality.” The next largest “please put me to sleep” — something to sleep with. The next is “take away my pain.” No wonder people are looking for some kind of leg up on life when life is so complex, difficult and problematic.
Paul will tell what his secret is in epistle after epistle. “How could you do it, Paul? We need to know because we live in a world which keeps us at a low level of energy, confuses us, and leaves us guilt ridden. “How did you do it, Paul?” His secret? He understood suffering was a way to witness for Jesus Christ. He found in every disappointment, in every unexpected turn in life, an opportunity to speak out all the more for his Christ.
He was called to this. God said to Ananias, “I will show him how much it is necessary for him to suffer for my sake.” In Acts 14:22, Paul encourages the churches in how they must, through many tribulations, enter into the kingdom of God. In Philippians 1:29 he says, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also in His behalf to suffer.”
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, he articulates the secret, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is perfected in your weakness.” Paul suffered not with the kind of suffering the stoic advocated, which was the best the world could come up with — “Just grin and bear it; and if you can’t grin and bear it, grit your teeth and bear it; but bear it.” Paul suffered with a kind of bubbling openness which invited people to ask, “How do you do it, Paul?” This was one of the ways he witnessed for his Lord — the way he bore his trouble. Instead of seeing every unexpected incident in life as a blockade and a detour, he saw what others saw as discomfort as windows of opportunity to let it be known what a difference Jesus Christ could make.
There is no more profound witness you can make for Jesus Christ than to endure suffering, tragedy and difficulty in a spirit which reflects the presence of God in Christ. There is no more profound statement in all the New Testament of humanity and the indwelling power of the spirit than Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 12:10: “When I am weak, then am I strong.” He kept his eye on God’s call for him, Christ’s death for him, and God’s available power.
As a young man I worked with a man who did odd jobs. He talked much about the time we would have to use the old, big, heavy extension ladder (made of wood). Finally, we had to use the big ladder. Guess who went up the ladder with the paint brush and can? Mr. Hansen said, “Harold, 111 tell you a secret. When you get up on that high ladder, you’re going to look down and it’s going to be higher than you thought. When that happens, don’t look up — the clouds will move and you’ll think you’re falling. Don’t look at the trees, the wind will shake them — you’ll think you’re falling. Don’t look down, this is what scared you in the first place. Look wayyyy out — find a place where you can see the horizon, look at it and it won’t move. Keep your eyes fixed on the horizon, back down the ladder until your feet feel the ground.” Paul kept his eye on what Jesus Christ had done for him, and this steadied him in times of difficulty.
You are entitled as God’s child to a life which has meaning and a sense of victory in it for you –apart from all circumstances. This is a part of what Jesus meant when He said, “I’m come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” But it will not be automatic. Someone is saying, “I wish I had more faith.” You don’t need more faith. You need to put the faith you’ve got to work in specific, programmable ways. Paul provides the model. He said “No” to two things and “Yes” to two things. In that he made faith functional.
The first “No” – “Paul, are you going to let how other people treat you determine how you think about yourself?” Paul answers, “No, my self-image comes from my own self-understanding and from God almighty, not from how people treat me.” If they threw Paul out of a synagogue, Paul would say, “Those are not a very gracious bunch.” If they cheated Paul, he’d say, “They’re all cheaters.” If they treated him shabbily, he said, “They treat folks shabbily.” When you treated Paul in an unworthy manner, he didn’t think he was unworthy. He thought you were. He knew who he was and he would not let how other people thought and talked about him set how he felt about himself. He always got his self-image from God.
The second “No” — “Paul, is your trouble punishment from God?” Paul would say, “Of course not. A lot of the trouble I have is because I’m a person and I can’t help it. There are troubles common to people. Some of my troubles I don’t understand, and some are because other people are troublesome and they cause me trouble.” He never would interpret his trouble as punishment from God. He simply interpreted it as a challenge to witness.
The first “Yes” — “Paul, will you accept what you can’t change?” “Of course,” he said. A sign on a flower pot said, “You’ve got to bloom where you’re planted because that’s the only place you can grow.” Paul believed that. He had to work where he was, with the people he had. He had to need the people he had, and he had the people he needed and he knew that. He simply would not sit around bemoaning the fact he had to leave Corinth or Thessalonica or Philippi.
In the great classic Gone With the Wind the saddest scene comes at the end. The South has lost, the carpetbaggers are bleeding the country, but Scarlett, with a few old slaves scratching in the ground trying to rebuild Tara, is totally unaware that what had happened meant Tara would never be rebuilt. The South was gone as they knew it. Rhett knew it. He did not know what was coming but he knew Tara could not be rebuilt. Our world is filled with people who, having undergone a traumatic, catastrophic event, try to go back and rebuild Tara — put life back together like it was — instead of understanding that it’s a new world, a new time and a new age. Who would trade the New South for the old one? You can’t rebuild Tara again.
The second “Yes” — “Will you do the good you can?” As Acts closes, Paul is in the house he had rented with his own money, teaching and preaching to all who would come to him. He would always do what he could.
The trouble with us is so many times the big things we dream about we are never asked to do. The little things which are at our hand seem to be beneath our dignity, so we sit around the middle doing nothing. Paul knew he was not over-qualified for anything Jesus Christ wanted. The way in which he answered these questions caused people to say, “That’s where the crazy man lives. All he’s got to do is to deny Jesus. It’ll stop the case. He can use his citizenship entrepreneurially and can do anything he wants. He’s a brilliant man, but he’s so eccentric about this Jesus. He’s crazy.”
Would you avail yourself of your entitlement in faith, to a life of meaning, to a life with a sense of personal victory? That’s what being Christian is all about. Will you do what Christ wants you to? (HS)
May 10, 1992
Be Encouraged, for Jesus’ Sake
(Acts 13:15-16, 26-33)
Often I deal with depressed or discouraged people in my role as a pastor. The one idea that’s continually verbalized is, “give me a word of encouragement!” Paul, Luke, and companions landed in Piseidon Antioch where Paul preached his first recorded sermon. It’s interesting to me that these people say to Paul — “give us a word of encouragement, we need it! Stimulate us in our spiritual lives … give us comfort in a mocking, distress-ridden society that doesn’t care whether we live or die … tell us some good news.”
Do you feel that way today? Are the props knocked out from under you? Do you feel like throwing in the towel to the middle of the ring and just giving up? Don’t! Let God encourage your heart.
This scripture passage tells us three ways to get encouraged.
1. Encouragement Comes with the Word (v. 15)
There was no New Testament writing at the moment, but the Old Testament law and prophets still gave a glimmer of personal hope. It was God’s written word then, and still is today. What we hear from Paul’s mouth is the building of faith on the foundation of truth garnered from the Old Testament. God’s word brings hope to a hopeless and hapless world.
In his book, Growing Deep In The Christian Life, Chuck Swindoll states that “The Bible is the authority, the final resting place of our cares, our worries, our griefs, our tragedies, our sorrows, and our surprises. It is the final answer to our questions, our search.” Today, go back to God’s Word to find the encouragement to face life again. Meditate on the Psalms, re-read the gospels (the good news story of Jesus), dig deep into the ways of God by diving into Romans. You will be amazed at the uplift God brings you.
2. Encouragement Comes with Worship (v. 16)
Something wonderful happens when we begin worshipping God either in private, personal ways or as a body of believers. W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of N.T. Words states that the word “worship” is “used of an act of homage or reverence.” Swindoll says that, “worship is a human response to a divine revelation.”
In my discouragement I can honestly tell God my feelings, my emotions. He doesn’t laugh or ridicule. He speaks words of comfort and cheer. When I hear Him or feel Him I have the freedom to respond in absolute silence or with a loud voice of praise.
Have you ever experienced moments when you have been touched by God? There is nothing to compare, but you must want that touch. It isn’t magic — it’s God that graces your spirit or desire. Worship connects us to God. Worship magnifies God, lifts our horizons from the burdens, changes our perspective, and refreshes our spirit.
Take a few moments today and worship. Look up, God is near. He is standing by you now!
3. Encouragement Comes with Good News (v. 26-30)
The good news of encouragement is that salvation can be yours! It comes by recognizing who Jesus is in life (v. 27). He came to bring redemption from sin to anyone who asks. Its accomplishment is through resurrection faith (v. 30).
Albert Palmer said, “Salvation is not something that is done for you but something that happens within you. It is not the clearing of a court record, but the transformation of a life attitude.”
When Jesus comes in, our lives are transformed from despair to hope. Has God done that in your life?
God will encourage your life today. Will you let Him? (DGK)
May 17, 1992
Tears in Heaven
(Rev. 21:1-4)
Tears in Heaven? Is that possible? I’ve always thought of heaven as a place of eternal bliss, a place where everyone was joyful, a place where sorrow was eliminated in every way. Still, if there are going to be no tears in heaven, then why would God have to wipe them away? The context of this verse suggests that the tears of verse 4 are not tears of joy but rather sorrow, based on the fact that once wiped away, there will be no more sorrow.
What would cause tears in heaven? I would like to suggest three possibilities. There will be tears in heaven over all the things that we thought were so important here on earth; once in heaven we’re going to realize that they weren’t so important. As we stand in the presence of God, we’re suddenly going to understand life from an eternal perspective. We’re going to realize that money and popularity and status weren’t that important after all. We will finally understand just how unimportant these earthly trappings were. That will cause tears that God will have to wipe away.
My mother’s favorite saying when I was growing up was, “What’s it going to matter a hundred years from now?” While this advice may not have been very comforting at the time, there is some good theology in her reply. The mature believer is one who can discern life from an eternal perspective, and make choices accordingly. When you examine the things that you spend your time, efforts, and money on: what will it really matter a hundred years from now?
There will also be tears in heaven over all the things that we worried about here on earth. As we face God, we’re going to suddenly realize that we could have trusted God more than we did. We’re going to realize just how much energy we expended here on earth over matters that could have been committed into His hands.
George Muller once said, “The beginning of faith is the end of anxiety.” It is Satan’s desire to rob us of every bit of peace and joy that he can through the avenue of worry. The word “worry” itself comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “to choke.” Not only does worry choke out our peace, it also is a most draining emotion that faith can and should overcome.
Francis Ellis, a businessman, drew up a “worry chart” in which he studied the conditions of life that caused him to worry. He determined that 40% of his worry was over things that never happened, while 30% of his worry was over past decisions over which he had no control. An additional 12% of his worry was over peoples’ criticisms of him, and 10% of his worry was over health problems. He determined that only 8% of his worry was legitimate. It will be a sad moment when we stand in the presence of our loving God and realize that we would not have had to worry. This will cause tears that God will have to wipe away.
Finally, there will be tears in heaven over friends and loved ones who could have been won to Christ with just a little effort. I’m not talking about the hardened sinner who wants nothing to do with God. I’m talking about good people, moral people, decent people with whom no one had cause to share the gospel.
How many people do you know like that today? Thirty-four of forty people who were made whole by Jesus were either brought to Him, or someone took Jesus to them. Church growth experts agree that 80% of people in a church are there because they were invited by a friend or relative. Still, many Christians will have to be standing in the presence of God before they will realize just how important it is to share our faith. Their minds will flash back to all the friends and relatives who could have been won to Christ with just a little effort. That will cause tears that God will have to wipe away.
If you were to stand before God today, would all your tears be tears of joy; or would there be some that God would have to wipe away? (TH)
May 24, 1992
Do You Love Jesus?
(John 14:23-29)
Anne Morrow Lindberg, wife of Charles Lindberg, once said, “The sheer fact of finding myself loved was unbelievable and changed my world, my feeling about life and myself. I was given confidence, strength, and almost a new character. The man I was to marry believed in me and what I could do, and consequently I could do more than I realized.”
Jesus can free our lives, give us unbelievable confidence, and power to love unreservedly. He can change our world from “I” centeredness to “other” centeredness. Christ loves us enough to forgive our rebellious acts and cleanse our sin-infested hearts. Is it any wonder that we should love Him? Do you love Jesus?
1. Do you love Jesus? If so, obey Him (v. 23-24)
L. Nelson Bell wrote, “shout from the housetops our faith and orthodoxy, but unless they are coupled with obedience to the teachings of God’s Word, there will come a time when we will find ourselves rejected from His eternal presence.”
Strong stuff, but true. Today, quit looking around to see if others are obedient. You be obedient! God has called you to be faithful, to be quick to respond, to offer yourself for service, to be the leader. Obedience is the test of love.
2. Do you love Jesus? If so, allow the Holy Spirit to be your personal helper (v. 26)
The Greek calls the Holy Spirit our “Paraclete,” and Bible scholars, commentators, and preachers have had a field day translating that word for us. Para in Greek means “alongside,” and the root meaning of Kletos is “to call.” So Christ will send this wonderful “Helper” alongside us to encourage us to live life to the fullest.
We need to call out to Him and bid Him to come with us on our journey. He will take on various roles as needs arise. He will be a counselor, an advocate, a witness, a teacher, a clarifier, a purifier, and an empowerer. This Paraclete comes to abide in the disciple who invites Him in to cleanse and purify so that Christ’s life and message will be perfectly clear.
3. Do you love Jesus? If so, put your fears away (v. 27)
What fears keep you from God’s perfect peace? Is it the fear of failure? Often you may have tried to walk God’s path, but failed. There is no sin in failure; however, failure to attempt leads to sin.
How many inventors succeed with their invention the very first time? Too many Christians give up after their brush with failure and defeat. Don’t! Satan is the victor when that happens. Our goal is a lifetime with Jesus, which will involve both defeats and successes.
Is it the fear of service? Are you scared God may ask you to serve on the church board? Teach a Sunday School class? Sing in the choir? Give your testimony in a public service? Pray out loud? Quit fretting! He will help you. Your church family will help you. You can even help yourself.
What other fears cripple your demonstration of love for the Savior? People? Places? Things? God will lead if you truly love Him.
Remember the old Mighty Mouse cartoons where he would come to the rescue saying, “never fear, Mighty Mouse is here!” Life is not a cartoon. We are desperately in need of help but there is good news: “Never fear, God is Here!” Why is He here in the midst of life? Because He loves you! (DGK)
May 31, 1992
Following God
(Acts 16:16-34)
During the presidency of Millard Fillmore, a group of twenty distinguished Americans met in the Astor House in New York City. The Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, was among the guests that night. He was unusually quiet and seemed to be in great thought. A colleague tried to engage him in conversation with this question, “Mr. Webster, will you tell me what was the most important thought you ever had?” He replied, “The most serious thought that ever occupied my mind was that of my individual responsibility to God.”
On their way to prayer meeting, the disciples Paul and Silas encountered a slave girl who had Satanic powers of fortune telling. Paul had the sole responsibility on God’s behalf to do something about her problem. In Christ’s name he ordered the evil spirit out of her. Doing good, being kind, and being Christian wasn’t what her owners cared about. What followed wasn’t easy for Paul or Silas; however, they obeyed God’s direction regardless of the circumstances following their decisions.
1. Following God can lead to miracles (v. 16-18)
Some claim the days of miracles, supernatural occurrences, are over, but the God of miracles lives today.
H. Ray Dunning, in Grace, Faith and Holiness, A Wesleyan Systematic Theology, refers to a miracle as an event or non-event that transcends our understanding and creates a sense of mystery, but has as its response to God the elements of faith, praise, adoration, and thankfulness.
Tony Campolo tells in one of his books of a dark, cold, rainy night as a young boy. He was delivering bread when his bike hit a pothole and blew out the tire. He cried out, “God, you’re mean. Everybody else thinks you’re kind. But I know you’re mean. If you were kind you would help me.” He pushed his bike to a nearby service station and over to the air pump. As he pumped the air into the blown-out tire, the air kept going out the hole. “Then a miracle happened. I remember yelling, ‘Oh, thank you!'” He made the rest of the deliveries and came home.
He writes, “I went to the front door and put my key into the lock when I heard a hissing sound. I turned back to the bike and watched with amazement as the air quickly left my blown-out tire. The miracle was over, and the tire went flat…. He performed a miracle for me because only a miracle could have saved my faith … God knew somehow, if something had not happened, I would have given up — not just on life, but on Him as well.”
What miracle has God performed in your life recently that brings praise, obedience, faith, awe and reverence to Him?
2. Following God doesn’t exempt us from pain (v. 22-24)
Recently my local congregation started a new ministry entitled PAIN, or People Associating In Need. The focus will be on those hurting emotionally, socially, physically, or spiritually. Just because we are Christians does not exempt us from death, divorce, failure, bankruptcy, or disappointment.
One of the men who made a lasting impression on me during my college days was professor Paul McGrady. In August 1962, he became a member of the faculty at Southern Nazarene University in the religion department, teaching evangelism and practical theology. His vibrant personality, his optimistic nature, and seemingly limitless energy made him one of the best known and most respected professors on campus. All of his classes carried an under-current theme of personal evangelism.
In September 1966, he became director of public relations for the university. One of his responsibilities was traveling with the public relations groups. He was riding in a car with two members of the College Men Four Quartet, as the other two members drove behind them. Suddenly the vehicle with McGrady veered and went across the median into the path of another vehicle. McGrady, the two students, and members of a family in the other vehicle were killed. Autopsy results revealed that the 19-year-old student had a heart attack at the wheel. Not fair! Where was God in such a time? Why? They had so much to give in life.
There are no guarantees that life will treat us “fairly” — Christian or not. It is in those unfair times that we lean heavily upon God and our Christian family.
3. Following God gives us peace in the midst of our circumstances (v. 25-30)
Only God gives us internal peace in the external chaos of life.
Jenny McCant tells that Dale Carnegie knew the mechanical techniques for “positive thinking” and “self confidence.” He had classes to teach people how to overcome worry and win friends and influence people; however, peace eluded him and in the end he committed suicide.
In a world filled with causes for worry and anxiety, we need something tougher than “positive thinking” or even “possibility thinking.” We need the peace of God enveloping our hearts and minds.
Are you following God today? If not, turn your life over to Him now! (DGK)
Sermons in this issue are provided by: David Mosser, Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Georgetown, TX; J. Grant Swank, Pastor, First Church of the Nazarene, Windham, ME; Lowell D. Steiker, Pastor, Ladera Community Church, Portola Valley, CA; Harold Songer, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, KY; Derl G. Keefer, Pastor, Three Rivers Church of the Nazarene, Three Rivers, MI; and Thomas Hoehner, Pastor, Faith United Methodist Church, Kokomo, IN.

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