People go to all kinds of lengths for excitement and challenges. A record has been set for the most bungy jumps is a short period of time, also for the number of back flips across a football field. Certainly not something I ever would have considered trying. Even so it highlight something in our nature that craves a challenge, that thrives on excitement, and that desires to be singled out for a good accomplishment. Being a part of the nature God created, these desires are not wrong. The problem with so much of mankind is that we seek fulfillment in the wrong places. The Lord offers us all of these in His service. If you read the Gospels, the life Jesus is offering His followers is a constant challenge. A life of faith comes with no guarantees for an easy time, and without any knowledge of what is ahead. We enter a walk with the Lord where His central instruction simply says “trust Me”. From here He takes us in directions we never dreamed, but if we are willing to follow His path we will hear the only commendation that really matters, “Well done good and faithful servant.”.
What does it mean to trust, especially to trust God? We say it all the time, but we usually have a back up plan in case God doesn’t come through the way we think He should. This is especially true in our affluent world. We solve many of our problems with money. We really don’t know what it means to have to pray for our next meal, as some Christian workers have had to do. Or pray for safety from hostile peoples. Truly trusting God is to be out on a limb with no way back. If God doesn’t help, we are lost. It is not a question that we have to be in poverty or danger to learn to trust God. Rather, we need to see Him as our single source of provision, strength, and hope in all situations of life. God is trustworthy. He has proven it time and again.
We like to think that we are capable of doing what needs to be done, and for the most part we are. We have talents and abilities. We work by something of a routine. We solve many problems as they come along in our days. However, as smoothly as things go along for a while, something always seems to crop up reminding us that we are not always in control. Be it a computer glitch, a sudden illness that puts one in the hospital, or even an unexpected death, things happen that we can’t change. The Lord, in His grace, uses these times to remind us to look beyond ourselves, check our priorities, set aside our pride, or a variety of other lessons aimed at focusing our attention upon Him for strength, wisdom, and guidance. No, we do not have the ultimate control of our lives. There is One far greater than we who does. And His nature is pure love and grace. Let’s depend upon Him.
We had the privilege yesterday of attending our grandson’s confirmation at his church. Confirmation is that time when a young person has the opportunity to affirm the vows his parents took for him when he was baptized as an infant. It is a serious time, and for those in attendance it is an important reminder of the seriousness of our own confession of the Christian faith. These young people had been instructed by their pastor for several years, and are then asked to stand before the congregation to confess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. After being asked a series of questions about their belief they are asked one final question. “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” That becomes a question posed to all of us who profess faith in our Lord. It is especially true in an era where there have been more Christian martyrs than all previous centuries of the Church, and where even in our own country people have been asked to compromise their faith in order to continue their business. So confirmation is not just a service our young people go through. It is a challenge for all of us to rethink the depth and commitment to our own faith. Our relationship with the Lord Jesus is truly worth what ever the cost.
We had a great worship service yesterday celebrating our Lord’s resurrection. Church was full. We sang great hymns, heard a fine message, gathered around the altar to share the Holy Sacrament, and declared again He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! But today Monday. We have a week before us of routine work, some pleasant tasks, some not so pleasant. The week may contain some illness, or a funeral service, as ours did last week. So as great as our service was yesterday, we are back in the midst of life today. But that is just the point of all that yesterday’s service proclaimed. Our Lord knows who we are and all we face in day to day life in a broken world. God sent His only begotten Son into this world to bring us life, not just for one special day but for every day. “I have come”, Jesus said, “that you may have life, and have it to the full.”(John 10:10) In the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave the power of sin, death, and the devil have been broken. Through faith in His name we have life. Today is Monday. The Lord is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
We live in a very fearful world. We face illness, disease, natural disasters, financial stresses, environmental concerns, the evils that men do to one another, and more.The news media brings us a constant flow of bad reports. We feel relatively safe within our homes and communities, but keep a caution eye out for trouble. The biblical world was equally uncertain for the course of a human life. Yet it was to that world, and ours, that Scripture speaks. God spoke through Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”(41:10) Jesus, Almighty God incarnate, came among us to share this fearful life, and to break the power of death for all time. He taught us of God’s Kingdom, a realm beyond fear, a realm that we share even now through faith in Him. We will still face many fearful things throughout our years, but in Jesus Christ we know that those things are not the final word. In Him we have strength to endure. Paul encourages us saying, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:6-7)
Do you feel good today? I hope so. It’s nice to feel good, but we have become a society that strives to always feel good. We expect our doctors to make us feel good. We look to our politicians to give us what we need to feel good. Teachers want students to feel food about themselves, and even some churches advertise that they make people feel good about coming. God never promised that we would always feel good. Certainly, there is nothing spiritual about feeling bad. That is not the point. But nowhere does God give us a promise that we would always feel good. He does, however, promise that He will never leave or forsake us; that His strength and grace are sufficient for all our needs; and that we can have His peace and joy regardless of our circumstances. That is a far better promise than just making us feel good.
We sometimes describe people as being open minded or close minded; willing to listen to other positions, or refusing to hear any other. Some Christians are accused of being closed minded fundamentalists condemning others, and there certainly are these, unfortunately. But the question is not how strictly one holds to a position, but how they seeks to share that position. For Christians, the divinity of Christ, and salvation by faith in Him are central. These truths cannot be given up, and are worth dying for. But how we share them is of prime importance. They are first shared by a life that is lived in sacrificial service. It is only the love of Christ through us that will draw others to Him. It is being open to others, and allowing them to see that we care, that will show them there is something better in Jesus. Christianity is a faith worth dying for, but more importantly it is a faith worth living to the fullest.
In the early days of the Church after Pentecost there was a unity in Christ that bound all the believers together. It says of that time “all those who had believed were together and had all things in common”.(Acts 2:44) Individuals sold their property and lived as a common community sharing all they had. This is not a model for the Church to continue, but what was important was the unity they had with one another in their common faith. Paul emphasizes this to the Corinthian Church in describing them in terms of a human body each part being essential to all the rest.(ICor.12) Tragically today we are divided into thousands of Christian denominations, and that unity is sometimes hard to see. What was central to that early Church was their common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their devotion to the Holy Scripture. Where we can share that commonality today we can support and need to support one another. We will argue about different doctrines, but wherever we can we must support one another in our common faith in Jesus, the Christ.
In Mark chapter 6 Jesus returns to His home town. He had the opportunity to teach the people, many of whom were His former neighbor, friends, or perhaps people He had done work for in the carpenter’s shop. Their response to His message – “Where did this fellow get this stuff?” (My free translation!) This was the carpenter’s son after all. We know his family. Where is this wisdom coming from? It was as if there was a darkness, a blanket over the eyes of their hearts. They couldn’t or wouldn’t let themselves trust what He was saying. That just seems so contemporary to me. We, particularly Americans, but the modern Western world in general, are so set in our own cultural norms, our technological mindset, all dulled by the pursuit of pleasure that our own eyes become darkened to spiritual truth. The god many believe in has to fit within the boxes they’ve made. When some preacher tries to say there’s more, there’s something deeper, there is a different way of life, the same response comes. Where did he get this stuff? But “this stuff” is very real and a truth the Lord want to open for all people. There really is much more to life than what our limited senses take in.