Many people like mysteries, dramas on TV, books by mystery writers, and so forth. But these mysteries always have a solution, usually with the good guys coming out on top. But where we don’t like mysteries is in our Christian faith. It is the reason the “why” question comes up so often. Why did God do this or allow that? Or in our sacraments. Jesus said “this is my body, this is my blood”, but we want to explain if or how it really is. It is hard for us to take God at his word, and trust that what He says is true without an explanation. It all began back in the Garden. God said “don’t eat of the tree” and we wanted to know why. But the heart of faith is taking God at His word, trusting Him, and believing He is our good Father.
St. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I attended a funeral this past Friday of a pastor in our community. Bud had been in this area for almost 50 years. There was no one else I know that could be called the town’s pastor. He had a local church, but he knew, and had ministered to, most of the business owners and many others in the town. He didn’t have an easy life. He and his family always lived on a very tight budget, faced a number of family problems, and had been driven from one church by internal conflict. Yet for him to live was Christ. It was a joy to meet and talk with him. The name of Jesus was in his heart and on his lips. The packed church testified to the impact the Lord had on many through his life. And the funeral service was glorious! For him to die was truly gain. Paul’s words are not just for preachers. He was writing to a normal Christian congregation. What he said is a witness for us all. Life is not easy. Trials abound. Yet Jesus Christ is in the midst of life, and by His Spirit He is in the midst of us. To live is Christ, and death is not feared. It can only be gain.
We have probably all read or heard some of those after death experiences people report. People are clinically dead for a period of time, brought back to life, and report what they saw. I don’t put too much stock in many of these, but there is one after death experience that is important for all of us who confess faith in Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, “You were dead in your transgressions and sin in which you used to live…(2:1) But then he goes on to explain, “because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…”(4&5) By faith in Jesus Christ we have all died to sin and been raised to a new life in Christ. It is in that life we live each day. A common characteristic of the reported after death experiences is that people are no longer afraid of death. Our certainty in Christ is more sure. We have died and been raised again. We are already living in resurrected life. We need not fear the transition at physical for “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.(Romans 8:39)
I think at various time we all struggle with the difference between the things we see with our eyes and the things we believe but can’t see. That’s where our faith is. We believe in our Lord. We believe He loves us. We believe He cares about all our needs. But we can’t see Him, and we are staring at this need, this problem that is right in front of us. The Lord has told us not to worry, not to be anxious, to trust Him…and we do, but we still struggle. This is where a couple of things are important to remember. One, we are not alone, we are part of a fellowship of believes who walk with us through life. They counsel us, encourage us, pray for us, provide material support when needed. And two, we look back in our lives seeing where the Lord has worked in our past. I call these the anchor points of faith. We know God did certain thing, provided certain things, gave a peace in a difficult situation – the examples of numerous – but we Know that God acted then in that time even if it was years past. We believe He will not abandon us in this need. We walk day by day with our Lord, beyond physical sight, but very real, and completely sufficient for all our days.
In my message yesterday – I’m sorry it was so long, but I had a lot on my heart – I used the term “we” a number of times. We sacrificed…we intentionally rejected…we removed…” It is very true that we as individuals may not have done these specific things, or approved them. But there is something I think we need to sense deeply in our relationship with our Lord, that we are a part of a common humanity He created for good, but we together have gone terribly wrong. We have our salvation. We have our new life in Jesus Christ. Yet we still come before God in humility with the prayer of Daniel, “Lord forgive me for my sins and the sins of my people”.(Cpt. 9) Life is not we and they – we’re the good guys, they are the bad guys. The Lord seeks those who are willing to humble themselves before Him, and cry out for His mercy, cleansing, and grace on all people.
We all like to get something free. Maybe it’s that toy that comes with a Happy Meal, or the Buy One get One Free deal at the food store. But we’ve also learned that if it is free it usually is not very valuable. It’s a gimmick or a “come on” to get you to buy something else. We’ve been ingrained with the idea that you only get what you pay for. But then the Lord steps into the path of our lives. He give us something free that is valuable beyond measure. So valuable that there isn’t enough money on earth to buy it. Our redemption, our standing in righteousness before God’s absolute holiness, our life now and for eternity. This is a gift purchased with the blood of the sinless Son of God, a free gift to each of us from Almighty God that no amount of money, no amount of good works, can possibly earn. Jesus asked the question “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”(Matthew 16:26) There is noting we can give, but it has already been given to us on a cross outside Jerusalem. All we can do is bow in humble worship and thanksgiving.
Sometime a very little phrase in Scripture can say a great deal. Mark Chapter six has the account of a storm on the sea of Galilee. Jesus had just fed the crowd with five loaves and two small fish. The disciples got into the boat and started across the lake while Jesus stayed on shore. It had gotten to be 3 or 4 AM. A storm had come up. The disciple were straining at the oars trying to make progress against the wind. The text says that Jesus came walking on the water, and “intended to pass by them”(NASB), or “He was about to pass by them”(NIV), or “would have passed by them”.(KJV) In other words, if they had not seen Him He would have left them to struggle through this situation on their own. Uncaring? No. What happened to the compassionate Lord? He was still there. He was near by. He saw everything that was going on with these disciples He care about, and was training to carry His truth to the world. But in this instance they were not in mortal danger. They would have to toil and struggle to get to the other shore, but that wasn’t a bad thing. They would face far worse trials in their later ministry. They did finally see Him, and the storm was stilled, but we face some storms that seem endless. But that doesn’t mean the Lord is not near, or does not care. All things are ultimately in His hands, and we will get to the right shore.
Psalm 125 declares that “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”(vss.1-2) This is a great word, and a great encouragement, but we also find ourselves in the midst of a world of trials, problems, and uncertainties. We can find it difficult to keep our trust in the Lord. But we do have the many real promises from our Lord that He is there for us “both now and forevermore”. Even further, we look back in our own lives seeing the times God has acted in life’s situations. He has brought us through many difficult times. Both Old and New Testaments teach us not to worry or be anxious, but to keep the eyes of our hearts fixed upon the One who is faithful. In Him “we cannot be shaken”.
On Tuesday I wrote about seeing life as a gift from God. That doesn’t mean that everything is exactly as God wants it. In a world full of sin many things are wrong, and not God’s desire for us. Why was there another tragic shooting yesterday? This is only one more in a long list of “why” question that have no satisfactory answer. Yet there is a truth that remains beyond all the questions. God has not and does not abandon His creation. We’ve just entered the Lenten Season, a season of humbling one’s self before God in repentance. It is a season that culminates with the truth of the atoning death and glorious resurrection of God’s only begotten Son. This is a gift, an act of the greatest love and extreme grace from Almighty God for mankind. It is an act assuring us that in spite of all our unanswered questions, things will be set right. God can be trusted to bring all things to their right conclusion. And in the midst of the day to day struggles He is there. His grace is sufficient for all our needs.
Some years ago I was walking over a piece of wooded property with the man who owned it. Wanting to appear somewhat knowledgeable I remarked that this was a nice stand of pine trees. He responded saying “Oh, their not much yet”. The difference was that I looked at the tree and saw their beauty. He was looking at the trees for their commercial value when they were cut down and sold for lumber. It seems that a lot of life is viewed with one or the other of these perspectives. Especially the way one looks at other people. Are they only useful for their utility and what they can contribute, or are they beautiful as ones whom God created and for whom God’s Son gave His life. I guess I was trying to be smart with my woodsman friend, but I think there is a need to look at life more with the eyes of grace rather than utility.