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#Lent#27

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

A distinction has often been made (and rightly so) between happiness and joy. Happiness has been described as something you have because of your circumstances; joy is something you have in spite of your circumstances.  In other words, one is dependent on good things happening that make you feel good; one is not dependent on good things happening.

The striking words in Hebrews 12:2 ring loudly. Speaking of Jesus, the writer says, “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (Emphasis mine). What kind of joy could be so strong that Jesus would go to a cross and endure it? I am grateful for John Piper’s thoughts on this. He says “the joy set before Jesus had many levels”:

  • The joy of reunion with His Father. Ps.16:11
  • The joy of triumph over sin. Heb.1:3
  • The joy of divine rights restored. Heb.12:2
  • The joy of being surrounded with praise by all the people for whom He died. Lk. 15:7

Think about this for a moment. If the hope of joy enabled Jesus to endure the cross, just think about what that same joy holds for us. To suffer, to endure = to experience the same joy as Him. Sometimes that is all that makes sense in this world gone mad.

Thoughts on joy by John Piper from The Passion of the Christ. 

#Lent#26

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

I’m in Ohio the first part of this week helping our daughter, Janna, move into her apartment. So I’m “cheating” by using the same devotion here that I am using at my other blog, Living in the Shadow.

If there is one emotion which captures the mood of many, if not most, people these days, it is fear. It has no favorites. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Mansion-dweller. Homeless. Actor. Homemaker. CEO. Grunt worker. Christ-follower. Non-believer. F.E.A.R. It paralyzes. It haunts. It creeps.

I was reading a devotion recently on Psalms. I’m going to reprint it in its totality for you. I hope it blesses you and show why we have nothing to fear.

Etty Hillesum was a young Jewish woman living in Amsterdam in 1942. During that time, the Nazis were arresting Jews and herding them off to concentration camps. As she awaited the inevitable arrest, and with the fear of the unknown (my note: sound familiar?), she began to read the Bible-and met Jesus. She simply put her hand in God’s hand and found rare courage and confidence.

Etty wrote in her diary: ‘From all sides our destruction creeps up on us and soon the ring will be closed and no one at all will be able to come to our aid. but I don’t feel that I am in anybody’s clutches. I feel safe in God’s arms. And whether I am sitting at my beloved old desk in the Jewish district or in a labor camp under SS guards, I shall feel safe in God’s arms. Once you have begun to walk with God, you need only keep on walking with Him, and all of life becomes one long stroll.’

Etty was a living, courageous picture of the psalmist’s declaration: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you…What can mere mortals do to me?” (Ps.56:3-4). What a challenge for anyone plagued by fear!

As we sense the strength of God’s everlasting arms beneath us (Deut.33:27), we can stroll through life with confidence, holding the hand of our unseen Companion.    Devotion by Vernon Grounds

I wish every person on earth, whether a follower of Jesus or not, could grab a hold of that truth. It is especially viable for the follower of Jesus to have faith not fear. Praise not panic.  My prayer is that including this devotion might soothe your troubled soul (if you are anxious or troubled).  And by all means, pass this along!

Devotion (in blue) from Together With God: Psalms @2016 Our Daily Bread Ministries. 

#Lent#22

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is credited with saying,

When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.

Jesus then set the example. His obedience to His Father meant death. Philippians 2 tells us that: “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (2:6-8)

Could we have any better example of Someone who fleshed out Bonhoeffer’s statement and became the ultimate example for us? History tells us that crucifixion was a horrible and horrific way to die. And yet He went. Hebrews 12:2 says, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…”

To follow Jesus means to come and die.  Maybe not on a cross or a pyre or a guillotine. But we still must die. To self. To selfishness. To pride. To ego. To “me first.” He set an example that we should follow in His steps. (I Peter 2:21)

#Lent#21

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

John Piper writes:

At the heart of Christianity is the truth that we are forgiven and accepted by God, not because we have done good works, but to make us able and zealous to do them.  (p.90)

I remember hearing once that Martin Luther, who believed very strongly in justification by faith, tore the book of James out of his Bible (true or not I don’t know) because James wrote, “Faith without works is dead.” (Js.2:26)  He further complicated Luther’s thinking with more words: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (v.18) He also wrote, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (v.24)

What Luther missed is what Piper is saying. We are not saved by our works, but we do good works because we are saved. It is not “I do for” but “I do because.” As my conversion takes hold of my heart, life, and thinking, it comes out in my doing.

Sorry Martin. Good works are involved. Not in the salvation process, but as an outgrowth of our salvation. My good deeds do not save me, but they do show I have been saved by God’s grace.

Quote from The Passion of the Christ by John Piper.

#Lent#20

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

With all the talk about “the virus” I thought we needed a reminder that we are still alive and live on a planet made by God, the Creator of all things good.  I came to the office early this morning (Sunday) and about 7:40 I peeked outside. I saw this sunrise and took these pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d say that is a pretty impressive display of God’s creative work wouldn’t you? 

Our service was live streamed on the church’s Facebook page.  I do not have the ability to post it here but if you would like you can go to the church’s website and click on OVCF Facebook Page. You can ask to join and either Diana or Tami will approve it. You can then watch it. I understand (and may be wrong since I am technologically-challenged illiterate) that you can watch it once you are a member of our page.

And remember there is always a sunrise with Jesus. In fact, it was real popular a number of years ago to say, “Friday’s here, but Sunday’s coming!” Good Friday looked bleak, but Resurrection Day changed it all.

***********************************

Shortly before they left on their spring break vacation one of the ladies in the church (my State Farm Agent) said she saw a shirt and it had my name written all over it. She gave it to me to wear and I told her I would wear it the first Sunday they were back. Today was that day and you obviously know the result of that.  It tells a great story for us and our times.  It is a lesson we must never forget.

Those are my words to all: DON’T. GIVE. UP!!

#Lent#15

Monday, March 16th, 2020

First place. That is what Colossians 1:18 is speaking about. “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.” Preeminent.

What is somewhat ironic is the false idea we have in our world of everything BUT Jesus taking first place. In verse 15 Paul uses the word image, which is the word likeness. It is also the word from which we get icon, i.e. idol.  Just think about it a moment. How often have we made something an idol?  When that happens we have allowed that thing/item to occupy the place of Jesus in our life.  Rather than belabor the point, let’s cut to the chase. Perhaps it is time to give Him:

First place in our family.

First place in our marriages.

First place in our profession.

First place in our sports.

First place in our worship.

First place in our possessions.

First place in our friendships.

First place in our viewing.

First place in our music.

You can add more but you get the point. The one I omitted speaks to all of us: First place in our lives.  Don’t you think it’s time? I certainly do.

#Lent#12

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

In yesterday’s post (#Lent#11)  I gave some thoughts about what survivors need after a loved one has died.  I encourage you to read that before reading this post (if you haven’t already done so).  In this post, I’d like to carry on with how to treat a survivor with some thoughts on Things Not to Say and Things to Say.

THINGS NOT TO SAY:

  1. “He/she is in a better place now.”  The question which begs to be asked is, “How do you know for sure?” Unless the victim was a follower of Christ,  you are better off not giving false hope.
  2. “I know how you feel.” No, no you don’t. You know how you feel, not how they feel.
  3. “All things work together for good” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Honestly, not only do I want to gag when someone says this (even though it may be half true), but it sounds more like an empty platitude.
  4. “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Not biblical.
  5. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Catchy Kelly Clarkson song, but this comes from Nietzche, who was an atheistic philosopher. He publicized the “God is Dead” movement.
  6. “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” This may sound good coming from your lips but it is virtually a worthless use of words. Why not offer something tangible like “I’m going to bring you a meal” or “Let’s go out for a run or coffee.”
  7. Any joking about people killing themselves is out of bounds. “Oh, if I fail this test, I’m going to kill myself.” (Roll eyes)

THINGS TO SAY:

  • Nothing. (But be present).  Being there and letting them talk or cry or just holding them or just sitting with them is much better than endlessly spoken, weary words. 
  • “I’m so sorry.”  (And mean it when you say it. Yeah you would be surprised).
  • “I don’t know what to do or say. ”  (See the first one of this section).
  • “Do you want to go out for coffee?”  (See #6 above).
  • “Tell me what you remember about him/her.”  (I do this for the funeral experience. It helps them remember the good times).
  • “Tell me your story.”  If they have been married a long time this helps heal.

Some added thoughts: 

  1. Be careful of using “committed suicide.” This implies criminality.
  2. Be careful of saying “completed suicide.” This sounds like a laudatory accomplishment, like completing a project or a grade.
  3. It is much better  to say, “Took his/her own life” or “He or she died.”

I know it is hard to know what to say. It is made worse by “tongue-tied disease.”  People want to give comfort but don’t know how.  Granted, much of what I have written is concerning suicide, but in many cases the advice can apply to any death and survivor.

Some of what I have shared comes from a book by Albert Y. Hsu entitled Grieving a Suicide. I simply cannot recommend this book enough.  The thoughts are a mash up of his and mine (mostly his). 🙂

#Lent#11

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

I’m going to take a break from my regularly scheduled Lent posts for a commercial.  Actually, the break is real; the commercial is not.  Lent’s focus is to prepare us for Good Friday and, ultimately, Resurrection Sunday.  Its design is to bring our minds to the importance of the crucifixion.  I’ll be honest: I’m not doing the normal Lenten thing of giving up something. I don’t observe Lent, as such, but I do want to portion a time of my morning Quiet Time to focus on what it is all about.  Hence, the Lent posts over the past 10 days or so.  I am calling this #11 even though it is not a typical Lent post. But I have something on my mind that won’t let go.

DEATH

The natural focus is the death of Jesus which will be observed in a few weeks. Sermons will be preached on “stand out” passages like Isaiah 53, the 7 last sayings of Jesus, and others. But my mind and heart are elsewhere this morning. Last Monday, the 2nd, our community suffered the loss of one of its members by suicide.  I was asked to do the funeral (on the 9th) even though he or the family did not come to OVCF.  I did not know the man; I know his wife; and I know his children from sports.  I refuse to judge the man or his destiny based on the act, but I was “charged” with saying something at the funeral.  I focused on his relationship with kids in sports and then spoke to the family about the faithfulness of God using Psalm 23. 

But the preceding Sunday (the 8th) I took some time out of our morning worship to speak to the church about how to respond; what to say; what not to say, if they should see the family or go to the visitation that afternoon.  I’m going to split what I said into two posts: this one and then one tomorrow.

I’m taking as my model Jesus’ concern for those He loved as He hung on the cross, particularly His mother and John. His love for His mother never stopped, nor did His love for John. He gave them each a charge: “Here is your son. Take care of my mother.” (paraphrased)

Part one of two posts is basically centered around what can friends of survivors do? Keep in mind this is for more than just suicide.  This can be applied to the survivor of any death.

  • Pray for them. Listen to them.  Send cards.  Provide company. Help with practical details, funeral arrangements, food, phone call, and so on.  Do what you can to help ease the immediate pain.
  • Survivors need presence, not platitudes. They don’t need pat answers to incomprehensible questions. They need the loving presence of friends to keep going. They need companions on the journey, not empty words and answers.  They don’t need their pain minimized; they want others to be willing to be with them in their pain and grief.

When Jesus was looking down at His mother and John, compassion and love rolled up within Him for both.  He wanted to make sure His mother was taken care of and He was giving His friend a high honor.

This post is long enough for today. Tomorrow I want to share with you what to say and what not to say. I hope you will join me. But more than that, I hope you can learn and use (unfortunately) what I am learning.

#Lent#9

Monday, March 9th, 2020

Jesus’ time on earth, His death and resurrection, was a series of clashes.  It is easy to see the clash on the cross of God vs Satan. Not good vs evil. That’s too shallow and cartoonish. No, the clash was greater.  It was a clash between the King of kings and the Lord of lords , the ultimate Ruler, vs the usurper, the pretender to the throne. The rebel. The loser.

The life of Jesus was also a clash. It was a clash of grace, love, mercy, freedom and new life vs the force of laws, rituals, arrogance, shackles and death. Jesus battled the enemy His entire time on earth. From birth to the grave. The religious system that wanted to bind and keep people under its thumb.

Jesus came to give freedom. He came to give life.  He did not come to make people slaves to rules and regulations, to a religious system that oppressed. I like the way Piper worded it:

The cross means freedom from the enslavement of ritual. (p.45)

You can see it in Acts 15.  You can see it in Galatians. What? The early battle Peter and the other apostles fought; the battle Paul fought against the oppressive  regime of legalism. The cross set us free. Live like it!!

The quote from John Piper is from his excellent book The Passion of Jesus Christ.

#PrayerfortheChurch

Friday, March 6th, 2020

We might occasionally hear someone say, “We need to pray for the church” and to stop short of gossip and story-telling they end it right there. Their heart and desire is sincere.  Some not so.  My sermon Sunday is going to take a positive spin on this often-used phrase and show how a person can pray for his/her church.

Paul’s prayer for the church from Colossians 1:9-14 is packed full of meaty stuff. 

  1. He first prays for them to have knowledge. This is direct aim at the Gnostics who were haunting the Colossian church with their nasty teaching. The Gnostics taught that Christ was a good place to start, but that there was so much more they could know and experience if only they would incorporate the Gnostic system of passwords, rites, and initiations.  The by-product of that was a know-it-all attitude and intimidation that their faith was not enough.  So Paul prays for knowledge. But here is the important thing: this knowledge is not just given to the follower of Christ to inform them, but to transform them.
  2. He then prays for them to walk well. The word walk has changed in meaning over the years. We all know what it means today. Back in biblical days it referred to a person’s pattern of daily conduct.  I’ll finish this section out with 4 marks of a pleasing walk.

Your prayers are deeply appreciated. Thanks.