A neighbor up the street was seriously ill some time ago. In talking with him after his recovery he credited “the Man upstairs” for helping him through. It’s not an uncommon phrase. I expect we have all heard the Lord referred to in that way. This same man has spoken at times about difficulties and strife at home. Somehow “the Man upstairs” doesn’t fit into that for him. It seems to me that the Man upstairs is a distant God, unconcerned about smaller everyday aspects of life. He is the God we look to in dire need, but otherwise don’t see Him involved with life. This is not the God who has revealed Himself to us in Holy Scripture. The God who willingly left Glory to live 33 years in human flesh, to experience all that we face in life, to give Himself in atonement for all of our sins, and to be raised again from the dead giving us the assurance of life eternal. We worship the living God who knows every sparrow, and can even care about a lost set of car keys, as I’ve heard one of our parishioner say. Our Lord is not a distant God, but one who cares about, and is involved with all life.
There have been celebrations recently of the 50th anniversary of the massive Woodstock rock concert that took place on a farm in New York. Bands from all over the country came to play for a group estimated at half a million teen age and twenty something people. One of those musicians was a young man named Carlos Santana. He later remarked that “What I learned most from Woodstock is that people are thirsty to live, to exist outside of religion and politics.” Things have changed a lot in 50 years, but I don’t think Santana is too far wrong about the basic nature of many people. Religion, they feel, puts too many restrictions on life. It causes an internal battle with the “I want” versus what they perceive God (however they conceive of him) wants. That’s right back to the first temptation in the Garden. And politics (while I dislike much about politics myself) does seek to provide a structure for the good of society. Yet our good and gracious Lord calls us to live within a structure that is for our best good. It is He who created us and knows us to the core of our being. We are called and invited to come to Him, finding in Him our way of life. Even when that means giving up our own will.
When some Christians talk about their spiritual life in a group of people, especially if some of them are unfamiliar to the speaker, they are sometimes reluctant to mention the name of Jesus. After all, the name of Jesus can be divisive and we don’t want to offend people. Well, it is true that Jesus can divide people. He said this of Himself “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division;…”(Luke 12:51) Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14:6) There are not many truths or many ways. The Apostle Peter would later make a defense before the Jewish authorities by saying, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”(Acts 4:12) Now, I’m not one for “in your face evangelism”. That can turn more people off than bring them to the Lord. Even so we cannot hide the name of Jesus. If we call ourselves Christians that means ones who follow the Christ. He is the One who has loved us so deeply that He gave His life so that we might live. We do not force anyone to believe, but we do seek to live in the love of Christ, and to share with people that our joy is in Him alone.
Sacrifice, a word not held in high favor today, but one very necessary to consider. We certainly know the value of sacrifice in the Scriptures. Old Testament sacrifices, while seeming to be a bloody mess, were an act of obedience and faith for the people. They were also an important lesson pointing forward to the New Testament ultimate sacrifice in Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of Christ is the means of life for us all. We share in that sacrificial death and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead through our baptism.(Romans 6) Now the life of that great sacrificial love becomes our model. We sacrifice when we willingly put another’s interest ahead of our own, when we hold our tongue instead of biting back, when we suffer some injustice instead of demanding our rights. Good relationships are built on sacrifice. The central question is what I can give, not what I can get. Maybe, if we are willing to think further in the context of our society, we sacrifice some portion of our government entitlements, or set aside political considerations in favor of the common good, we will find a better life together. We have been given the greatest life possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Young and old alike need to seriously think what sacrifice means for daily life.
I’ve said before, God boggles my mind! I cannot fathom the magnitude of our Lord and His Kingdom. But then I’m not supposed to. If God were no bigger than my mind He wouldn’t be a God worth believing in. We do get glimpses into His life. Looking into the visible cosmos with all its immense size, and beauty leaves us enthralled with its grandeur. Yet even this is but a small part of God’s creation. The second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians speaks of “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”(2:2-3) Paul makes it clear that all of this is centered in the person of Jesus Christ. As Paul has said in the first chapter “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”(vs.15) The fulness of our Lord is truly incomprehensible. Yet He does want us to know Him. He has revealed Himself in the person of His son, Jesus Christ, and through Him we gain insight into mysteries of our God.
We are familiar with intercessory prayer. Many of us use a daily prayer lists, praying for friend’s and relative’s needs. There is another aspect of prayer we need to make more intentional. It is called standing in the gap. There were a number of times God was angry with Israel on their journey out of Egypt. He was ready to destroy the nation until Moses pleaded with the Lord on their behalf, staying God’s hand of judgment. The Apostle Paul pleaded with God on behalf of his people, the Jewish nation. At a late time in Israel’s history God said to the Prophet Ezekiel, “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.”(22:31) We rightly pray for the needs of those we know, but we need to cry out more and more to our Lord for mercy on behalf of our nation and all of this broken world. Diplomats and legislators will not solve our problems. We need God’s presence, mercy, and grace. Stand in the gap for all of our people.
Good morning saints. In Paul’s letters he frequently refers to the people in the churches he established as saints. What is striking is that many of them were not “acting” saintly as we might think of it. Particularly with Corinth and Galatia he had to speak pretty harshly to them. Yet he called them saints. Of course he wants them to live holy lives, but what he is continually pointing to is the work God was doing in them, and not what they merit personally. He is clear in writing to the Philippians saying “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.(2:13) He tells the Colossian church that it is He who “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”(1:13-14) No, we don’t feel like saints, and a lot of times we don’t act like saints, yet God declares that is who we truly are through faith in Jesus Christ. He sees the end from the beginning, and Paul has given us the promise that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 1:6) So I say again, good morning saints.
In my computer Solitaire game there is a button at the top of the screen where I can replay the same deal over. If I play a set and don’t win, I can play the same hand over again and try to correct my mistakes. The rules don’t change, but I am allowed to try a different path. Yesterday I likened the rules of the game to the way of life our Lord has established for our good. And we lose when we don’t follow them. But our gracious Lord is far better than the play over option on my computer game. We do mess up in His rules for life, but He has provided the way for forgiveness, cleansing, and a new life. In Jesus Christ we receive not just a new deal with the same old cards, but an entirely new life. About our baptism into Christ, the Apostle Paul says that we have died with Him. The old life is buried with Him, and we are raised to a new life lived in the resurrected Lord Jesus. (Romans 6) We still sin because we are in this fallen nature, but sin is not who we are. In Christ we have a new identity. We are assured that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. (Romans 8:1) That is far better than a do over in my Solitaire game.
I sometimes play Solitaire on my laptop computer. If I win a game the program has a display of fireworks that flashes up as it gives the final score. My young grandson likes to sit on my lap when I start playing. He’s waiting to see the fireworks. He want to get his hands on the keyboard. I’ve tried to show him that a red card has to go on a black and numbers have to be in sequence. It takes some patience, understanding of the rules of the game, and often learning from the errors. But he wants to just punch the buttons and get to the fireworks. He will push my hand out of the way when I try to guide him. How about that as a lesson for life! Don’t we do that, and watch it being done, in many areas of life? We just want to push a few buttons and get to the fireworks without all the patience, studying to understand the rules, and learning from our mistakes. This is especially true in the sexual aspects of life. A designer created the game of Solitaire, and it need to be played by his rules. Life also has a Designer and has established the way in which it is to be played. We get to the fireworks when we play be the rules. (There is more to be said about the game of life and its Designer, but we will get to that tomorrow.)
Christians are to be stubborn. I been accused of that a time or two. But the issue is really the question of what we stubbornly stand for. If it is a matter of personal pride, or wanting to get one’s way, that is one thing. That is self-centered and not good. On the other side, Paul writing to the Thessalonians says, “He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you,…”(2Th 2:14-15) This is where stubbornness has its rightful and necessary place. We have been called by the Gospel. That is, by God grace through the Holy Spirit, we have heard and believed the truth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. We have been given salvation and life through faith in Him. Through preaching, and teaching of the Holy Scriptures we have learned truths about who God is and the life He wants for us. It is upon these that we stand firm without compromise in those things that we know to be true. It is not easy in our secular world, but we have learned that it is only in our Lord that we have true life. We will stubbornly hold to it.