“Inconvenient” Peace

Below is an opening paragraph for the sermon this coming Sunday (Advent 2). The theme is peace and the context is your life. The text doesn’t follow the lectionary but I’ve never been one to stay in line 🙂

So here you go:

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. [Luke 1:26-27]

We’ve heard this situation over and over again; a young girl betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was going to become pregnant during an inconvenient time. Actually, for Mary to become pregnant during the betrothal period, even by her own husband, would subject her to stoning; something that many of you have heard before. And to some it may sound like I am belaboring some basic biblical story details but these details are important. These details set the scene for the peace that Mary would soon receive following some incredible news. Because really, these details highlight the chaos in our own lives. They set the scene for God to enter our lives with Good News and at times that may seem inconvenient or at times we do not expect. And that’s exactly how God works. God works in situations and at times that we would not expect. God does this that God may receive the most glory because it is only God that can give peace during those “inconvenient” moments. And when one sees that God is in control in those moments, something amazing happens, as we will see with this young, betrothed, peasant girl.

May God surprise you during this Advent season and bring you an “inconvenient”peace. Amen.

The Pastor -|—

A Spiritual Kick in the Pants

Pursuing Christ is not an occasional hobby to receive some spiritual high but rather a way of life because he loves you.

The above quote is something I wrote and posted on my Twitter feed (Feisty Pastor, @EricSpeakingUp). I wrote it because of personal experience; using spiritual practices to feel good and/or (believe it or not) to ensure that things will go my way. I would engage in spiritual practices; diving into scripture, writing, reading theology books, praying and meditation, to find this closeness with God and thus feel this sense of peace. And I would continue this for awhile until something would happen or I would slowly fall out of “practice”. And after going through a low time or feeling nervous about something coming up, I would start all over again.

Basically, using God as a drug to deal with life.

The weird thing is, deep down inside, I knew something wasn’t right but yet I kept at it because God was (and is) always faithful. God gave me this sense of peace when I would pursue Christ. And of course God knew what I was doing but yet God continued to love me and bless me with this peace. Part of me wishes that God would not have done that because I definitely did not deserve it.

I am not sure what happened but some spiritual kick in the pants woke me up to the reality of what I was doing. Maybe it was God’s love that kicked me. Maybe this peace that surpasses all understanding overwhelmed me to the point of conviction. I am not sure, but whatever it was I saw the error of my ways. But more importantly, I saw what I was missing.

An intimate relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus.

The fact of the matter is, pursuing Christ is NOT a hobby. A hobby is something we do to take a break from life. It’s also something that does not consume one’s life (at least it shouldn’t). A hobby is only a part-time commitment. One of my hobbies is reading, but I only do that in my free time. Jesus being a hobby means that Jesus is not really part of your life. It means that you control the terms of the relationship. It means you are in charge. And this flies in the face of what it means for Jesus to be your Lord. A lord is in charge, not the subject.

But also, it flies in the face of what it means for Jesus to be your Savior. Jesus has saved me from my sins through dying on the cross. Through faith, Jesus has saved me from eternal condemnation. Through faith, Jesus gives a comfort that gives me strength no matter what this world throws at me. And therefore, why wouldn’t anyone want to get to know this Savior better and be close to him ALL the time?

Knowing this and receiving this should move “pursuing Jesus” from hobby status to a way of life, and not to get a spiritual high to get through your day, but rather to get to know this Lord and Savior better and better. Pursuing Jesus, then, is something that is every bit natural as breathing is natural.

If pursing Jesus is only a part time activity or hobby in your life, then you don’t know Jesus; you don’t understand what he did FOR YOU. Pursue Jesus ALL the time because he loves you and has died and risen FOR YOU. Pursue Jesus not for some spiritual high but because you want a relationship with him. Pursue Jesus FULL TIME.

Pursue Jesus and live with eternal joy as you look forward to living with Him on high.

The Pastor -|—

Hold Me Tight ~ A Prayer

Holy Father,
Your wisdom is awesome.
Your timing is perfect.
Your faithfulness is great.
Your love is boundless.
Your grace is limitless.
Your compassion is comforting.

And it is in these qualities that I find peace for a restless soul.

And so I,
appeal to Your wisdom;
wait for Your timing;
bask in Your faithfulness;
cling to Your love;
give thanks for Your grace;
and rest in Your compassion.

May I always know this peace.

Holy Father,
in the midst of turmoil,
I am thankful for a peace that surpasses all comprehension.
So hold me tight,
and shake me awake when I mindlessly wander from You.

All praise and worship and honor and glory,
be unto You,
Holy Father,

forever and ever,
Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Peace in a Troubled World (John 14)

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” [John 14:1, ESV]

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27, ESV]

Beautiful bookends to a beautiful chapter. The beginning of Jesus’ farewell discourse begins with peace and encouragement to not have troubled hearts. Following this and up through verse 27 Jesus talks about:

Going to the Father
Preparing a place for us
Bringing us home to the Father
That he and the Father are one
In the mean time, giving the Holy Spirit
Not leaving us as orphans
Loving Jesus means loving the Father
The Father loves you

And finally: Peace
So therefore: Let not your hearts be troubled

What a beautiful discourse. And what a great reminder, because think about it, how often do you let your hearts get troubled? How often is your peace rattled?

~ You share your faith with your son or daughter, father or mother, friend or coworker and nothing. They still won’t accept Jesus and therefore it’s easy to become discouraged.
~ You just lost your job, money is tight, your health is not the best; and your heart is troubled about the future and whether things will ever get better.
~ A drunk driver kills someone one, yet another report of ISIS reigning terror someplace, the news reporting another murder involving domestic violence; and you wonder if peace will ever be a reality.

But Jesus says, Do not let your hearts be troubled. I got this. I have overcome this world. I have defeated death. Stuff may happen now that is unpeaceful and discouraging, but think on me. I give you a peace like nothing the world can give, so stop looking for peace there.

And it is this peace; the peace that only Jesus gives, that allows one’s heart to not be troubled. It’s thinking on Jesus that encourages our discouraged hearts. It is faith in the crucified and risen One that truly brings peace in an unpeaceful world.

No matter what you do; no matter how hard your search; no matter how hard you try, you are never going to find or create a situation where your heart will be completely free from trouble or discouragement. Maybe you can do something for the short-term, but there will always be something lacking without Jesus.

So turn to Jesus and let not your hearts be troubled. And know a peace that surpasses all understanding and surpasses anything that this world can promise.

Be at peace, my friends, and praise God always and forever.

God of peace, Your love and compassion and faithfulness is what we truly need in a love-less, compassion-less and faith-less world. May we turn to You and be at peace; knowing that Jesus died and rose that we may have a place at the Great Banquet table and a room in Your Mansion. What a joy to think on this promise. What peace. Thank You, oh God, in Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Not that bad…really?

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
(1 John 1:8-10)

Maybe you have never said that you are without sin.
Maybe you have never claimed to be perfect.

But…

Have you ever said or thought:
At least I am not as bad as that person sitting over there
At least I am not living in sin like that couple.
At least I attend worship more than that person.
At least I don’t________” (Fill in the blank).

Sin can be a tough thing to talk about or listen to because many people don’t want to hear that they are sinful, they want to hear how to make their lives better.  Our society today has been so inundated with the prosperity gospel that any talk of personal sinfulness has become very offensive to people.

“Don’t tell me I am sinful, tell me how to be successful.”
“Tell me how to have a better marriage.”
“Tell me how to be blessed by God.”
“Tell me how to be happy in this life.”
“Tell me that, deep down inside, I am a good person.”

Go to the self-help section of any bookstore and you will see book after book after book that uses scripture to “teach” you how to be successful, to be happy, to get ahead in this world.  These authors claim that God wants to bless you and this is how you can make that happen.

Really?

The Good News is not that God wants to bless you, but the Good News is that because we are SINFUL God has blessed us with his Son, Jesus Christ.  There are no steps or actions we must take, but…

Jesus has already died on the cross for you.
Jesus has already risen from the grave for you.
Jesus has already made the offer for forgiveness.
Jesus has already gone ahead to prepare a place for you (John 14:1-7)

And Jesus has done all of this because we really are that bad.  We are sinful, evil people.

[Sorry if I just burst your bubble.  Well…actually…I am not sorry.]

Being happy and successful in this life is something Jesus never promised.  But what Jesus has promised is that we can have a PEACE that surpasses all understanding and HOPE in this life of eternal life.  And it is this PEACE and HOPE that sustains me in this life…even when things are not going my way because I know that there is more than just THIS life.

Admit your sinfulness and know that God is faithful and just and will forgive your sins through Jesus Christ.  For in the end, that is all we truly need.

Dear sinner…have a great day basking in the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord 🙂

-edh-

Overcome

I was asked a question about God yesterday:  “Why does God allow little children to suffer terrible illnesses?”  It is the age-old issue of God, evil and suffer.  How do they coexist if indeed God is a loving God.  I don’t like watching little children suffer.  I don’t like watching footage of earthquake and tsunami damage.  But suffering is part of life…but why?

My first response was that God created this world perfect but sin messed it up…and God was grieved (to put it mildly).  But the suffering we experience in this world is not the end for God has overcome the world.  God overcame the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As I sat and pondered this issue some more I was drawn to John 16 where Jesus is comforting his disciples.  Jesus closes that chapter by saying I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world. Praise be to God!

I still don’t like suffering.  I still grieve when little children suffer terrible illnesses and when I see reports of natural disasters.  And…I still ask that age-old question from time to time:  Why God, why?  But each time God comes through with words of reassurance and hope; strengthening my faith through reminding me of his love. And through this faith strengthening I am reminded that this is not the end.  My faith tells me that when I am going through hard times that God is right there with me.  My faith tells me that in the midst of suffering God is right there whispering those words of Jesus in my ear and in my heart.  My faith tells me that when Satan takes his best shot to drive me to despair I can respond by saying, “You have already lost!  My God has defeated you and has given me the victory through Jesus Christ so go away!

Evil and suffering are here to stay…for the time being…but take heart…Jesus has overcome the world FOR YOU and FOR ME.

Praise be to God!

-edh-

I Love to Tell the Story

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, because I know it’s true;
it satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.
I love to tell the story; ’twill be my theme in glory
to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
(ELW #661)

…that is Lyle’s song…and it speaks of his life.

I wrote about Lyle last week.  At that time he was living his last days.  On Thursday, Dec. 11, at 7:30pm, Lyle took his last breath and I had the honor of being there with various members of his family.  I have been at the bedside of other people as they died but this one was different.  As I said last week, Lyle was like a grandpa to Connie and I so to watch him die was not easy.  Lyle was also a great proclaimer of the faith.  He did this through his words but probably more loudly through how he lived.  The quote from St. Francis of Assisi was indeed true for Lyle:  “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.

But I want to share one thing that happened that night; something I will never forget.  At around 7:3opm we knew that the time was close.  One of the kids turned off the light above Lyle’s bed and for the first time in a couple days, Lyle opened his eyes.  That was a powerful moment.  It was like he was taking one more look at us before he went to see Jesus and Gladys (his wife who died in Feb.) again.  A couple minutes later he breathed his last.  Of course their were tears, but it was different.  They were tears who came from people who had hope.  Then one of his daughters summed up what we were feeling…she said, “I feel so at peace.

WHAM!

That was exactly it.  That is the peace that Jesus came to bring; a peace that surpasses all understanding.  It is a peace that we feel when a loved one dies (at least for those whose faith is in Jesus).  It is a peace that tells us not to be afraid.  It is a peace that allows us to say, “See you later.”  The peace that came with the Christ child at Christmas is the very same peace that filled Lyle’s hospital room on Dec. 11.

I am sad that Lyle is gone and I will miss him greatly, but I feel at peace.  Lyle is no longer suffering and Lyle is not gone forever.  He’s gone (physically) from this life, but not from our hearts and minds.  Lyle is not gone forever, but through Christ we will all be reunited again.

May the peace of God that surpasses all understand guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And was we live in this peace, let’s join together in praising God always and forever.

See you later, Lyle.

-edh-