Today is the day and it has finally arrived. In just a few hours, I will be heading for Fort Hood, TX to report for active duty. In the process, I am leaving my family (temporarily) and Nashville (for a lot longer). I knew it was coming and it came suddenly. Nashville has been home for nearly seven years and now all of that is about to change. I am sad to leave and unsure of what is coming next. There are some thoughts to keep me going today.
I know that my separation from my family is only temporary. I need to report before housing is available so I am heading off today so I can report on Monday. I know my family is just about a month behind me. Last year, I was at Fort Jackson, SC for three months and I went much longer without seeing them. With the technology available to us, I can keep in touch and keep connected until we are together again.
I refuse to say good-bye to anyone. I know paths will cross again at some point. Nashville has been home and I have formed some great friendships along the way. Nashville is also on the trip back to Pennsylvania so we will have to stop here overnight which means visiting with friends. Sometimes we have to say farewell to move on to other things. They are not easy but with friends (and with Christian friends), we never say good-bye. I like this quote I found yesterday:
“A farewell is necessary before we can meet again, and meeting again, after moments or a lifetime is certain for those who are friends.” ~Richard Bach
Finally, I go with God. I know I keep repeating this but it is the truth. I am on this journey because God has called me on this path. I really don’t know what is in store but I know I go with God. That is all that really matters in the end. This morning as I was reading through my devotionals, I came across two verses that jumped out at me.
…do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. ~Isaiah 41:10 (NRSV)
I have nothing to fear because God is right there. Countless verses in Scripture allude to the fact that following God’s path may not be easy but God will be right there with us each step of the way. I go today knowing this.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? ~Romans 8:31-34 (NRSV)
Again, a similar idea to Isaiah. God is with me (and us) so I really have nothing to fear. Instead, as I prepare to leave Nashville, I look back on the friendships and the lessons I learned over the past seven years. I have grown considerably and as I have been saying, I take each of the people I have met with me wherever I go. The lessons they taught me and the love they showed me will go with me always. It is a wonderful idea that a seed planted in a person will grown and blossom and produce fruits – sometimes far away – but you have a part in planting that seed and nurturing it for a time.
Thanks friends, I will miss you but I cherish what you have shared with me.
It is a few days late but here is my manuscript from a remembrance service on 9/11. I was asked to deliver the devotional message as an Army Chaplain and I am finally getting around to typing out the text. It is based on Romans 12:21.
Our world changed in a dramatic and sudden instant eleven years ago today on a morning not unlike today. In an instant, thousands of innocent people lost their lives in a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and one other flight. In an instant, our sense of security turned to one of fear. In an instant, we began to look at our neighbors a bit differently. In an instant, wars were launched that lead to the deaths of thousands of our brave military and still thousands more of our “enemies”. The world changed in an instant and it is that instant that has brought us here today to pray, to remember, and to reflect.
The challenge on such an occasion is to find the right scripture and the right message to mark the solemnity of the moment while challenging the listeners to act. The words from Paul’s letter to the Romans seem to fit the bill. Paul offers a challenge to not allow ourselves to be overcome by evil but rather to work to overcome evil with good. As I look out, I know what you are thinking: “But Chaplain, I am a good person who loves my Savior; I’m not overcome with evil.” I know most of you would not embrace evil intentionally but neither would many of my friends. I know people who are great Christians, leaders of their churches, moral and upstanding people who would not hesitate to give you the shirt off their backs, and who love their Savior fully. They would be offended if I even suggested that they were allowing evil to overcome them yet they are. I read their posts on Facebook and see them filled with hate towards followers of Islam. They condemn an entire religion and its believers because of the actions of a handful of extremists who do not represent the larger group. It is a fine line between fear and anger and hate. Yoda said it best in Star Wars: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads suffering.” For eleven years, many of us have lived in fear and suffered for it. Rather than to let go of our fears, we have allowed them to fester and grow into a cancer that consumes us. It is not a pretty picture but it is a reality in many of our lives.
So what do we do?
We need to continue to remember the events of that day eleven years ago because those who fail to remember (and learn) the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. If we stop remembering, we will face an uncertain future. However, I believe we need to change how we remember the events.
In our remembering, we need to stop fearing people. How many of you can honestly say you understand Islam? There is a lot of information out there from the internet to Aunt Mabel’s hairdresser. I challenge you to go to the source. Talk a Muslim neighbor and ask questions about Islam as you share a meal. Better yet, find a mosque and share in Friday prayers. When we don’t understand people, we form assumptions about them and those assumptions can lead us to fear them and judge them wrongly. But when we open our eyes and our minds, we see people in a new light – not as enemies but rather as part of God’s creation, just as we are. We can learn from each other and love each other. If we are truly Christians, we need to reach out to all people and share the gospel – not with words but through our actions of love and understanding.
This challenging idea brings me back full circle to the events of eleven years ago. It is evident from watching the news that today still brings grief and anger to many people. It should. We have a calling to participate in building the kingdom of God in this world. The horror and death of 9/11 is not part of kingdom building but rather kingdom destroying. The terrorists did not want to build but tear down – literally – peace and security. We can stop it but working to build the kingdom of God in this community and beyond. How, you may ask. By refusing to give in to our fear. By refusing to give in to our hate. By refusing to judge others because of their religion, or their gender, or their race, or their sexuality. By working with our neighbors – whether they are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Atheist, or some combination of all of them. When we do these things, we force our fear to the back of our minds and we begin to work to build a better world – God’s world. We stop seeing our neighbors as our enemies and we find we have so much more in common with them then we realized. In those moments, we are kingdom building and one step closer to “your kingdom come”.
Eleven years today, our world changed in an instant. We can accept that we live in a different world or we can stand up and work from change. I challenge you to join me in working for change. We know God is love, justice, and peace. We know God’s kingdom is coming so let’s work to overcome the kingdom killers by loving peace and loving each other. Let’s be kingdom builders as we remember and honor those who died. There is no better memorial than a world of peace, love, and harmony.
Today marks the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001. This morning I challenged a congregation to remember differently as I preached from the scripture below. If we continue to remember in fear and anger, we will always react in fear and anger.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~Romans 12:21
I am amazed how a short scripture can challenge us in so many ways. Here are a few questions I raised this morning as I challenged my listeners during the remembrance service:
- How is it possible not to be overcome by evil?
- How is it possible to overcome evil with good?
- Where have you seen examples of people, communities, or organizations, by the grace of God, overcoming evil with good—particularly in response to September 11, 2001?
And finally, I offered a challenge as they went through the rest of today and beyond:
- In some small way, try to respond to something evil with an act of goodness, generosity, and genuine love. Let this be a practice that takes root in your life, not only this day, but every day!
PRAYER: God of all goodness, we rejoice that you have already overcome the powers of sin and death through the dying and rising of Christ our Savior. By the grace you have given us in Baptism, help us, day by day, to die more and more to sin and live more and more to your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So just in case you missed the big news from Monday, my family and I are heading to Fort Hood for a PCS (permanent change of station) move this September. Of all the possibilities of places the Army could place me, I wasn’t expecting Fort Hood. Not that I am upset, just surprised. I have spent this week reflecting and thinking on what this means and what is next.
After the initial excitement wore off, I began to think about the distance (even farther) from family and heading into the unknown. While I have some idea of what I am getting myself into, in other ways, I have absolutely no idea. But nonetheless, we are heading off in this direction as God is leading us. Then I stop and read and reflect on Psalm 121 which happens to be my favorite:
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore. (NRSV)
We are going off into the unknown of Texas but we are not going alone. We have God with us each moment of this journey (and all journeys for that matter). My family and I are exactly where God wants us to be and I have no doubt all things will work out according to God’s will for Scripture says:
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. ~Romans 8:28 (NRSV).
Edward Everett Hale, the great American orator, once said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” It may seem like a trite comment but there is power behind it. As I was running this morning, I was thinking about the idea of ministry. I have talked with people who tell me they could never be in ministry. It catches me off guard when I think that everyone is in ministry. Every thing we do is for the glory of God. Some people are called to ordained ministry while others are called to hospitality or music or some other ministry. Paul writes:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. ~Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV)
As I think about an army unit, I am the chaplain not the commander, not the cook. I have a specific role within the unit just as everyone else does. My role differs from everyone else’s but I am just as important as the commander or the cook. However, without each part of the body of the unit, nothing would happen. It is the same way in a church. Different people have different roles but it is all ministry and without one person or another doing their piece of the ministry, things will not happen.
We are all in this together so let’s work together for God’s glory. Let’s remember that everything we do should be in worship to God and so there is no small task in ministry or in life. Without the work of each of us, ministry will not happen. Embrace what you can do and do it the best you can!
Today is the day I have for which I have been waiting a long time. I have been on a journey and today (or maybe tomorrow) I will know where that journey will lead.
For those who are confused, I have been part of the Army Chaplain Candidate program for the past 18 months and heading in this direction for nearly 3 years. I have put forth my packet to be considered for active duty and I will know whether that is happening later this week. If I am not selected for active duty, it is not the end of my military ministry – it will just change directions and focus. I will still be part of the Army and I will still have a chance to do ministry with Soldiers.
There would have been a time in my life when I would have worried about what was going to happen but not anymore. I have a friend who likes to remind everyone that it isn’t about me, it isn’t about you, it’s about God. It is a true statement (I even preached about that idea this past Sunday). None of this has anything to do with me ultimately – it is all for God’s glory and all part of God’s greater plan. I am privileged to be a participant but it isn’t about me at all. While active duty may be appealing (and I really, really want to go active duty), it may not be God’s will for me. I may be disappointed but I will keep going where God leads me.
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. -Psalm 55:22 (NRSV)
So what lessons would I share with you today based on my above ramblings? Good question and here are my answers.
- It is not about you; It is about God. It is that simple. Every single thing about this life is about God. We have a purpose on this earth and true joy and delight come from fulfilling that purpose. Happy are those who find their purpose and live their life according to God’s will!
- It will be okay. I remind myself of this all the time and I am reminded of this all the time. We may not be able to see what is coming down the road or see to the other side of our troubles or our waiting but God is already there and that is enough for me. As my supervisory chaplain reminded us in a sermon: “God is already in tomorrow.”
- Don’t worry; be happy! I am not naïve enough to know that being happy all the time is nearly impossible. However, when we worry less and trust more, happiness follows. This comes from a worrier at heart who struggles with doubt and worry on a regular basis. Believe me, I am worrying less and I am happier for it. Life still isn’t easier but it is better when I stop worrying and trust that God is in control.
So as I go through the next few days, I am waiting but I am not worrying. I may be on the edge of my sit waiting for answers (who among really does like to wait?) but I am not worried about the outcome because it will be exactly what God wants for me. I would appreciate a prayer or two but no worries here. It is all good.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. -Romans 8:28-29 (NRSV)
My New Year’s resolution was to spend more time in deep reflection – both personal and scriptural. I wanted to think deeper on things instead of giving everything a quick glance and then either keeping it or dismissing it. I realize that five days into the New Year, many people are abandoning resolutions to pray or read the Bible because things haven’t changed. Life is no better than it was on December 31. The world is still in turmoil and perhaps our own lives are in turmoil and we are looking for a way out.
I was thinking about this as I was running this morning and then I heard Blessings by Laura’s Story. I had one of those moments as I was listening to this song (if only I could do what a song does in 3 minutes during a 15 minute sermon!). This song really made me think and realize that what we see as trials and tough times may not be trials at all. These low times may really be God’s mercies in disguise. We have had low times recently and it is hard to see any shining light or rainbows or chances of times getting better. Then we hear how what we thought would have been a good thing turns out to not be something we need or want to be involved.
‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?
The words to this song made me cry. There are so many times I can remember over the past few years that I was faced with what seemed like a huge trial…The trials I have been through in my life have always caused my eyes to look up. Whenever I would look up, God would reveal himself to me. I have learned so many things about God through the trials I have walked through. If we can learn to pull ourselves above the circumstances, out of the self pity, out of the pain, out of the anger and confusion and simply look up to God, we will find a blessing. The blessing of knowing he is near. The blessing of learning a greater aspect of who he is in the midst of the storm. The blessing in finding out that there is a greater purpose to life and that this place is not our home. Somehow…looking up has eased the pain and sorrow I feel. Looking up has filled me with the blessing of joy. This earth could not satisfy my pain and heartache I was feeling…but God could and he did. He filled my heart with a greater knowledge of his promises. He built me back up and strengthened me with the blessing of HOPE.
We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified. So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them. Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us. Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter. But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. -Romans 8:28-29 (CEB)
I have been a christian for years now. I can honestly say that I have learned the most about God through the storms in my life. Many times my healing has come through tears as I have cried out to God. Gods mercies are new every morning…he is always waiting to pour them out over us as we look to him in all situations.
Today I am free! No hardship or trial in this world can hold me down because I know that it is just for a moment, after all..this place is not my home. My God will never leave my side. He is always near.
Sometimes the greatest blessings are found in the greatest trials we go through. Perhaps that should be my new New Year’s resolution – to look differently at trials – not as a trials but blessings and mercies in disguise!
Here we are on the other side of Christmas and the New Year. Of course, today is still technically a holiday for some folks since the New Year fell on a Sunday but for most people, the holidays are over and there is a sense of finality as decorations come down and life returns to normal. The hopes, joys, and peace of Christmas (that we have been preparing for since October!) is suddenly gone and we are left with this idea of what to do now.
Of course, the fun isn’t over yet because there are many people who believe that Jesus will come this year and could even come today! It should not matter to us whether he comes this day, this year, or in 20 years as long as we are prepared and watching for his coming. After all, we are told to be ever watchful and thankful in our actions, thoughts, and lives.
Intriguing instruction to be watchful and thankful in prayer. I mean, these aren’t two words one would normally put together for something as benign-seeming as prayer. And yet, it’s not the first time Paul speaks of danger in the prayer closet or the necessity for alertness.
Keep on praying and guard your prayers with thanksgiving. -Colossians 4:2 (CEB)
But is there danger in my prayers? Not hardly. At least, not at first blush. I rarely consider myself to be in deep spiritual battle. Or am I?
Is it possible that mere steadfastness, faithfulness, and consistency can make waves in the spiritual realm? Is it possible that I am part of the “transformational” by holding up my friends and family in the Light of the Christ? Is it possible that my quiet moments of deep connection to the Spirit have resounding impact? And if that is so, is it possible that there is push back that manifests in ways I do not realize?
Perhaps this is what it means to be watchful in prayer: becoming aware of the imprint of God. Watch for movement in the spirit realm. Allow the spiritual senses to become alive in prayer: not just seeing with the inner eye, but also hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling.
I followed the devotional You Set My Spirit Free: A 40-Day Journey in the Company of John of the Cross, which was arranged and paraphrased by David Hazard. In the devotional, he writes, “He creates in you the desire to find Him [the Spirit] and run after Him–to follow wherever He leads you, and to press peacefully against His heart wherever He is . . . Press, and keep pressing into His heart, until you have pressed the image of His invisible nature into the substance of your soul.”
Be watchful. When this happens, there could be fireworks.
We are told in various places throughout the New Testament to give thanks:
Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don’t eat, don’t eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. -Romans 14:6 (CEB)
Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. -1 Thessalonians 5:18 (CEB)
They said, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and was, for you have taken your great power and enforced your rule. -Revelation 11:17 (CEB)
I have always thought of this as something I must do willfully and consciously, but today I imagine what it would be like to be overcome with a spirit of thanksgiving. To give thanks out of a heart overflowing with an appreciation for the presence of God.
So then, the essence is to “be watchful” in order to experience the fullness of the Spirit which automatically leads to thankfulness. That’s good.
We are quickly approaching the end of this year. People reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year. People often make resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, or something like that. I am making a different kind of resolution this year.
Here it is, something to ask God to do for me every day: fill me with the knowledge of His will. Think about it! The perfect solution to every situation, every setback, every decision, and every sorrow embedded in the knowing of His will. This is my new “catch-all” when I am overwhelmed.
Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. -Colossians 1:9 (CEB)
There is a second fall-back scripture for me in times of trouble, “. . . We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” I allow the Spirit to guide in these circumstances.
In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. -Romans 8:26 (CEB)
But now I have this other way, this simple prayer for knowledge of his will. And I’m pretty sure I won’t have a conscious awareness of the knowing. Instead, I will have the effects of it (Matthew 7:18): the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), the ability to endure and to be patient and to manifest a spirit of thanksgiving in all things [1 Thessalonians 5:18].
This is a prayer God will always answer. It’s not one of those “yes, no, or maybe” prayers. Paul prayed in this fashion for others. I can do the same and I can pray it for myself.
When Paul was “kicking against the goads”, he was going against the will of God in such a dramatic and determined way that he experienced a physical miracle — and not a pleasant one, no matter how “spiritual” we’d like to make it sound. He was thrown from his horse, lost his sight, heard voices, and had to be led to Damascus in disgrace. After that, he didn’t eat or drink for 3 days. He despaired and expected his own death.
I think I have experienced my own version of going against God’s will, I can tell by the fruits of it: impatience, anger, discontent, harshness, and even cruelty. When my mouth and mind engage in all those sorrows and negativity, I am operating in a vacuum and missing God’s will.
Fill me today, Lord. Fill me to overflowing that the knowledge of your will becomes a sweet aroma to others. Amen.
Here is a field sermon based on Romans 8:35-39:
I want you to take a look around you right now. Look at the people who are sharing this place with you. You all have things in common: you are Soldiers; you are at war; you are deployed; you are away from your families. There are things that we have in common and yet we can still feel alone and isolated. We are far from our families and our comforts. We may even be scared and afraid to tell others how we are feeling.
There is something I want you to know. Maybe we can’t understand how you are feeling. Maybe you are struggling with something that we can’t understand but there is someone who does know what you are feeling: Jesus. You see as our scripture tells us today there is absolutely nothing that can separate the love of God from us – even our humanity. God our creator took on our flesh to come to this earth to live as we do and to understand what it means to be human. God knew fear and loneliness on the cross and God understands what you are feeling right now and nothing can keep God’s love away from you – For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You are probably thinking “That sounds good Chaplain but I don’t see God here with me now.” Again, I say look around you and see your fellow Soldiers who understand what you are doing and feeling. God is around us not only in creation but in the people we are with. God knows what you are feeling and God has placed people in your life who share those experiences. You are not alone. You are loved.
I have had a rough day today. A bit of curve ball was thrown my way or maybe I found the pavement to be suddenly rougher than I expected. But despite that, I met God when I needed God most.
Have you ever experienced divine revelation? It is an interesting experience and I am sure it is different for everyone. In my case, it just occurred to me today in the midst of my day – thankfully it did not involve a burning anything, a thunderous voice, or a visit from an angel (“fear not…”). Instead, it was an idea that came via an email from a friend. I mulled it over and it simply expanded until I realized it was God. The idea from my friend was that God has my marching orders.
I realized later after thinking on that phrase that my journey through life is on God’s time. I am along for the ride so to speak. Of course, I don’t mean to imply that I am a puppet whose strings are being pulled by God. Instead, I realize as I look back on things that have happened – they happen at the right moment and not on my time. I went to seminary when I did because I was ready for it. I was called to ministry earlier in life but I was not ready to accept that call – I was when I accepted it. It was God’s timing.
Over and over again, with the ability to look back, I can see that my journey happens at the right moment…in God’s time. If I made the decision about when things would happen, I would probably screw it up.
Of course, none of this is easy because I want it to happen now…right now. It would be easier on me if
it would happen when I wanted it to happen but it would be the wrong time. In my reading today, I read that God often does the best work in chaos and anxiety because in those moments, we are most aware of God’s presence because we are looking for it the most. I never thought about it that way but I guess that is true. On a calm, beautiful afternoon, I can see God in nature but God’s presence is not always overwhelming to me. It is in moments of distress, chaos, or trouble that we seek out God and find God waiting.
We are on this journey called life but it is in God’s time. I may be frustrated that things do not happen when I want them to happen but I am grateful that they happen when they need to happen.
We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 (CEB)
Scripture works all things together for God’s purpose – not in my time or to my needs but God’s purpose. There is comfort and hope knowing things are happening just as they need to happen.
What does it take to be Jesus to others? Don’t you think that is a good question to ask. Millions of hurting people walk the streets daily, including you and me. What is it that they need? More stuff, fame, perfect spouse, better job? I don’t think so. Look around you, some of the people that are hurting most in the world seem to have all those things. What they need is someone to be Jesus in their lives! Below are a few ways we can be Christ to others, allowing him to use us to impact the lives of the people that need him the most.
Love: (Romans 8:35-39) Love people! Loving people is never convenient, not always fun, and always takes effort on your part. But look at the example Jesus gave to us, he laid his life down because of his love for us.
Encouragement: (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Build others up! There are plenty of things and people in this life that will tear you down. Doesn’t it feel good when someone encourages you and believes in you. Encourage and believe in others.
Be Real: (John 4:1-26) When people need to hear the truth, give them the truth in love. If you practice Love and Encouragement they will respect you when you are Real with them.
Love, Encourage, and Be Real. Be Christ!
I am always interested in what my devotional reading brings to my attention. The past few days I have struggled with some internal issues and I have needed to pray but haven’t found the right words. Today, I read about Job.
Then Job answered: “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Have windy words no limit? Or what provokes you that you keep on talking? I also could talk as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you, and shake my head at you. I could encourage you with my mouth, and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.“If I speak, my pain is not assuaged, and if I forbear, how much of it leaves me? Surely now God has worn me out; he has made desolate all my company. And he has shriveled me up, which is a witness against me; my leanness has risen up against me, and it testifies to my face. He has torn me in his wrath, and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me; my adversary sharpens his eyes against me. They have gaped at me with their mouths; they have struck me insolently on the cheek; they mass themselves together against me. God gives me up to the ungodly, and casts me into the hands of the wicked. I was at ease, and he broke me in two; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces; he set me up as his target; his archers surround me. He slashes open my kidneys, and shows no mercy; he pours out my gall on the ground. He bursts upon me again and again; he rushes at me like a warrior. I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and have laid my strength in the dust. My face is red with weeping, and deep darkness is on my eyelids, though there is no violence in my hands, and my prayer is pure. “O earth, do not cover my blood; let my outcry find no resting place. Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven, and he that vouches for me is on high. My friends scorn me; my eye pours out tears to God, that he would maintain the right of a mortal with God, as one does for a neighbor. -Job 16:1-21 (NRSV)
Here we have Job suffering and feeling low. He has just been the object of another vicious attack from Eliphaz. How much more can he take?
Sometimes we feel like that and we tend to switch off from spiritual things. Eliphaz accused Job of having no devotion to God (v 4). But underneath it all Job was proving the power of prayer.
How can Job possibly pray in his terrible situation? The clue could be in Romans 8:26:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
His outward appearance is getting worse, but God is looking at him on the inside. I have been at this point. I have needed to pray but have had no idea what to say. Then it seems it just pours out of me.
The Internet beckons us each day with all the information we could ever desire. Pornography seduces us. New “friends” are lurking to lead us astray. Before we know it, we are hooked, and our bondage has begun.
Long before the internet, James wrote:
“But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” (1:14-15 NRSV).
This description shows that the process of sinning has not changed much over the span of time. These verses make it clear that there’s no reason to say “The Internet made me do it.” We have only ourselves to blame.
With Paul, we confess, “Wretched [hu]man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). But then comes the message of hope for us all: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25). Our faithful, forgiving God will help us face Internet temptations and “provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Here is the sermon I preached at Lawrenceburg Cumberland Presbyterian Church based on Romans 13:8-14:
First, I would like to take this chance to wish you all a Happy New Year! Today, marks the start of the new liturgical year in the church. Beginning today, we wait for Jesus’ coming and follow him all the way to the cross and beyond.
Have you ever had the experience of sleeping in or sleeping away most of the day? It may be something unique to my generation but once in awhile I do find myself sleeping in until mid morning. On the other hand, I have had the horrible experience of sleeping in and not intending it. It is those mornings that I have a sense of urgency as I rush around and scramble to get things in order to get out of the house!
Paul is endeavoring to evoke that same deep sense of urgency in his congregation in Rome. “Wake up, get up,” he writes. “Get going, it’s time!” “This is the day, this is the time for salvation. Don’t live in the darkness of the night; live in the light of the day! What has happened that has Paul so excited, so passionate? God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, that’s what has happened! And not just that, but more. What God has done in the world, in a certain time and place through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, not just the birth of Jesus but the crucifixion and resurrection, has changed everything, has changed the world! The world is now a different place, says Paul. The kingdom of God has entered into the world, a wounded world that has longed for God and groaned for good news. God is here. The good news is that in the death and resurrection of Jesus God prevailed. Death is defeated; it is not the final thing. New life in Christ is the final thing. Sin has separated us from God, but in Christ Jesus, we are reconciled to God and sin is no longer the final word. Forgiveness and grace are the final words.
There is some debate about whether or not Paul’s passion for people to adopt his own urgency for faith and conversion came from his belief that the Messiah was to come again at any time, that the final times were here, and therefore people had a limited time to accept salvation in Christ before it was too late. Possibly early on in his Christian life Paul thought that. But his letters span many years, and the letter to the Romans was written possibly 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s energy and commitment to his firm faith in God’s saving power was only strengthened over the years of his ministry, despite no return yet of Jesus the Christ, despite no final day of reckoning. Fundamental to Paul was his unshakeable belief that in Christ, God had effected a cosmic change in creation. Everything was different in how God related to the world, and so everything must be different in how the world now must relate to God. It was hard for Paul to comprehend that people would not want to profess faith in this new kingdom that God had created, in this new relationship that was possible between God and his children, in this new possibility of trust and hope and the freedom that comes from giving all that you are to God’s care. The power of salvation is available to everyone, if you just believe.
Paul’s passion lasted his whole life, because he knew that this good news was too good not to share – it was too good to keep quiet about it – it was too good not to give his whole life to preaching and teaching and courageously standing with his Lord and Savior.
Paul’s mission was to people who were trying their hardest to profess their faith in Christ, whether they were Jewish or Gentile, and trying to figure out how to live in the Roman world as brand new Christians. We don’t live in a Roman world today, but I can’t say that it’s any easier, most of the time, to know how to live in the world that we have as a Christian – brand new or not. Yet here we are, still looking for that good news, still living in a world groaning for God, yearning for healing, and seeking grace. Here we are, wanting to believe that the power of God for salvation is still as possible as it ever was and ever will be. That’s faith, my friends.
A large part of Paul’s message to the church in Rome, and to most of the churches to whom he wrote, was to encourage the people in how to live, how to behave, and in what to do in response to God’s gracious gift to them, to the world. It seemed clear to him that if you live your life as if you are going to meet God face to face anytime, if you live your life confident that God’s kingdom has begun, if you live your life knowing that the relationship you have with God is more important than any other thing in your life, well, if you live your life that way, then your behavior ought to reflect that this is what you believe. It wasn’t about doing something right in order to win God’s approval. (Paul would never have said that our action would win us salvation.) It was about faith, faith in God’s actions, faith in God’s love, and faith in God’s promise of steadfast relationship with us! But faith is not just believing. Faith is also about doing, acting, and working in God’s kingdom here and now, doing the work of Christ in the place where we are, responding to that free gift of God’s love that we can do nothing to earn, but that we can do everything to show off.
I’ll tell you the truth, I love getting presents! And when I unwrap a beautiful gift, I can’t wait to show it off. The most beautiful gift that we have been given is God’s great love – how can we show it off? Paul tells us how – by throwing off the works of darkness and by putting on the armor of light, that’s how. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he calls upon this same image of light and darkness, but he defines it a bit more for us. He defines more about what this armor of light looks like. He says, “Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” Faith, hope and love. We can put on Jesus just like we put on a sweater. In other words, I quote another great saint of the church, Francis of Assisi who once said, “Preach Jesus always and in everything but when necessary, use words.”
Faith, hope, and love, all gifts from God, are warm and constant companions in the midst of an often cold and confusing world. If we live in the midst of these gifts, if we live as if there is no time to waste, if we live as if it is urgent that we tell the whole world about the glorious gift of God, tell by acting out our faith, tell by our hope in word and deed, and tell by showing our love for our neighbor. Well, we would be putting on Jesus.
Every day is a new adventure in God’s good news. Every day is a day open with possibilities to share God and to share the good news. This is news that is too good not to share. I hope you know that, too. Amen.
When I get a new translation, I read three passages slowly and carefully, with a Green NT near at hand, to give me a feel for the translation and the translation theory: I read the Sermon on the Mount, I read Romans 3, and then I read James. Usually I can get a good solid feel for the translation from these three passages.
I did this recently with The Common English Bible (New Testament). I like what I see here and I’ll keep this translation near me on my desk.
- What do you think of modern translations? What is best for public reading?
- What do you do? How do you assess a new translation? Do you want something that sounds familiar or something that startles you by change and makes you to think anew about the text? Which translations do you find most useful today?
115 leading Bible scholars participated; ecumenical and mainline; field tested by 77 reading specialists in 13 denominations. It comes out completely in 2011, four hundred years after the KJB. The CEB will be useful and good for personal reading, public reading, and for classroom study. It will have the Apocrypha when completed.
Here are a few big summary thoughts, and I’ve only dabbled in other passages:
First, it sides in general with an NIV or TNIV approach: it aims at accessibility, clarity and avoidance of unnecessary misunderstandings. Thus, it has “brothers and sisters” instead of “brothers” throughout. While some call this “inclusive” there is a solid fact suggesting this isn’t “inclusive” so much as “accurate.” Very often a “brothers” means “everyone” and not just “male Christians.” So that it is not an inclusive view so much as an accurate translation.
It has “human being” and “the Human One” instead of “Son of man,” and whether you like the former or not, the latter is often misunderstood. So, this rendering will push the reader to read more closely.
Second, this translation sometimes adds expressions to make the Bible clear where a more literal translation will prompt some to misunderstand. Some of these clarifications will be disputed, but I’d rather have an attempted clarification followed by discussion than as assumption that we are right when we are dead wrong. Thus, Matthew 5:44 has “those who harass you because of your faith” instead of the Greek’s ending with “harass you.” The “because of your faith” is added in order to clarify that the harassment was generated by faith and following Jesus.
At the end of the same paragraph we have “your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone” instead of just “complete” or, as in most translations, “perfect.” (Be perfect as your Father is perfect.) Here the perfection/completeness is seen, on the basis of solid contextual information, in the Father’s love for all.
Third, there’s a little New Perspective flash at times when it cames to translating “faith of Christ” (often translated “faith in Christ”) and the CEB has “faithfulness of Christ.” Thus, Romans 3:22 has “God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” and here we see a clear emphasis on the obedience of Christ. In 3:25 we have “a ransom that was paid” for the typical “redemption.” And then we have “the place of sacrifice where mercy is found” and this has been often understood more in terms of propitiation.
James 2:1 has the “faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ” — and there again we have a “faith of Christ” taken to refer to Christ’s faithfulness and not our faith in Christ. But in the famous justification passage of James 2:14-26 they translated “showed to be righteous” instead of “justified.” Not all agree, but having a translation like this will yield to fruitful study and inquiry.
Fourth, there is variety: I’m happy to say the translators didn’t get too wooden. Sometimes the word is “righteousness” and other times it is “justice” and I’m not sure the rationale for each, but there’s two sides to the Hebrew term and therefore also to the background for the NT terms and I like this ambivalence and variety.
Fifth, everywhere the sentence structure is clean and clear; they’re doing their dead-level best to translate so that the Bible makes sense. I’m not sure I like “Happy” in the beatitudes, but I think as many will be helped by “Happy” as are led into confusion by “Blessed.”
- Luke 23:33-34: And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
- Mark 11:25: And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
- Matthew 6:14-15: For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
- Luke 17:3-4: Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
- Matthew 18:21-22: Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
- Luke 6:36-37: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
- Matthew 5:44: But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
- Ephesians 4:32: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
- Colossians 3:13: bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
- Proverbs 19:11: Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
- Romans 12:20: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
- Matthew 18:32-35: Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
- Acts 7:59-60: And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
- 2 Timothy 4:16: At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!
- Genesis 50:20-21: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
- James 5:15: And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
- Colossians 2:13-14: And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
- 2 Corinthians 2:10-11: Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
- Romans 4:7-8: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
- John 20:22-23: And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”
- 1 John 2:12: I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
- Psalms 32:1-2: A Maskil of David. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
- Isaiah 33:24: And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. –Romans 8:28-30
Life is full of choices, isn’t it? Most of the choices are mundane and routine. Whether you choose one way or another, your life is not going to be much affected. What I ate for breakfast, what I decided to wear this morning, and even which car I decided to drive really are not going to have a profound impact on my life or the lives of those around me.But there are other choices that we can make that can have profound, life-changing consequences. In 2001, a young man named Jason was racing his friends in his car. They all thought they were just having a good old time. But Jason had been drinking. In a split second, the good old time changed into a tragedy. Jason caused a crash that killed his 15- year-old brother, Aaron. As a result, Jason was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. He was sent to state prison on a six –year sentence. Jason had a choice, and he made a tragically wrong one.On the other side of the coin, there are people who make incredibly good decisions. In my life, I have had the privilege of meeting a number of people who have made wise choices. I could spend the rest of this sermon sharing stories about some of these people but that is not necessary because you have all met these same sorts of people. They make wise personal decisions, decisions about finances, decisions about life and the results of those decisions stand as testimony to their wisdom.We make choices all the time. There are just all sorts of possibilities for us in the realm of ‘choice.’ I am about to read from the 24th chapter of the Book of Joshua. In this familiar passage, Joshua offers the Israelites a choice of eternal consequences. Let us open our Bibles and listen to the Word of God. (Joshua 24:1-2, 14- 18).Joshua offered the Israelites a choice. He said to them, “…Choose this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24.15)As I said before, life is full of choices, isn’t it? But life is also full of things that we really shouldn’t choose because it just doesn’t make sense. Let me give you an example. All you have to do is to look at me and you can see that I am not built for speed. Through genetics and the fact that I love to eat, I’ve become a guy that carries around an amount of pounds wherever I go. Even if I were to slim down all I could, I would still weigh about 215 pounds. Now as a person of my configuration, I know that there are things that I can do and things that I can’t or shouldn’t try to do. I would not make a good ballet dancer – that would not be good choice of career for me. I would not make a good living at running track and field. I know that I would not be very good as a flying trapeze artist and so that wouldn’t cut it as a career choice for me. These are choices that really have no choice because I have to follow the sensible path.But there is a catch to all of this. You see, in each of those cases, I had a choice to make. I could choose to be a ballet dancer or a trapeze artist, or a sprinter (not a good idea in any of these) but they are choices that I can make. There are times in our lives, though, when we have no choice to make. For example, I am a fan of the Food Network show “Barefoot Contessa”. I would love to be invited to her house to enjoy one of her meals. If the invitation came in the mail, I would accept immediately and be on my way to dinner. But you see the invitation has never come so I can’t choose to go for dinner.If God had not offered the invitation to become God’s people, the choice could never have happened. That’s the way it is when we speak about our capacity to choose for God. Without God taking the initiative, choosing for God is something that we can’t do on our own. God is beyond our capacity to grasp. We cannot choose to love God on our own. We cannot choose to serve God with our whole heart and mind and soul on our own. The Scriptures say, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) Simply stated it means that in things spiritual, a person not led by the Spirit of God just doesn’t have a clue. If we are not led by the Spirit of God, we will never be able to even begin to grasp an understanding of God let alone make a choice.In matters of salvation, we do not have sufficient understanding and discernment and will power to choose for God. The Scriptures speak of the person who doesn’t know God as if he or she were dead. The darkness of the sin in our lives is such that we are dead to the things of God. How can a dead person choose for God? But there is a very interesting passage in the Gospel of John that says: “I tell you the truth; a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25) The voice of Jesus, through the Gospel penetrates into the darkness of spiritual death and brings light and life.It is in this context that we can begin to understand the choice that Joshua offered to the Israelites. Joshua specifically encourages them to choose for God because God had invited the Israelites to be God’s people! You see, the Israelites were covenant people. God had already chosen them! God had come to them and beckoned them to enter into a relationship with God. God had liberated them from slavery. God had rescued them time and again. God had protected them in their desert wandering even when the grumbled about everything on a daily basis. God had led them to the Promised Land. God had given them the commandments and had instituted the worship rites that they well knew and understood. God had already worked on their lives, in their hearts and had called them to be God’s. And it is in this context that Joshua offers a choice. He offers a choice to people that know God – God’s covenant people.We too are a Covenant people, beloved by God. We live in and by a covenant with our God. We are a people – a people whom the God of heaven and earth – the Creator of all – our Creator – has called to be God’s own. God has sent Jesus Christ into the world to rescue us from the spiritual darkness and sin that keeps us from being able to choose for Him. That light of Jesus Christ comes to us by the Gospel. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 – ESV) The Holy Spirit works through that Word of Christ to point us to Jesus. When the Holy Spirit works in us, then the words of Joshua make sense for us: “Choose this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.You see, we live in a land, like the Israelites of Joshua’s time, that has the tempting allures of man gods. You’ve heard all heard the call – you’ve felt the temptations that this world offers. Of course, those temptations take a different form for each person whether it is football, drugs, sex, money, power, and the list goes on and on. But in Christ we are empowered to make the small choices that give testimony to the work of God in our lives. We can make a choice to ignore the gods of the world and serve our God, the God of all Creation. When we serve the Lord, people see that choice – and that gives testimony to the work of God in your life. And other people are influenced and convinced of God’s love for them in Christ. Your little choices to live a godly life can be used by God to make an eternal difference, not only for you, but for those who know you. St. Francis is rumored to have said: Preach Jesus always and when necessary use words! Our actions speak louder than anything we can say and when we stand up to choose God and be Christians, people will watch what we do. I said earlier that most of our choices really don’t have a big impact on our life or the world around us but they really do. Our behavior, as Christians, can turn someone on or off to God.Thankfully, God doesn’t let us on our own to help spread the gospel. Once the seed is planted, God comes to us beckon us, to woo us, to draw us unto God. The waters of baptism come and bring with them forgiveness and faith. Jesus offers Himself to us. He brings forgiveness and peace to our lives through the Gospel. He comes to us in his Word to bring illumination. And through all these things, He carves us out as his own. He makes us into covenant people empowered to choose for Him because Jesus lives in us and we live in Him.My friends, I invite you today to make a choice. Choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will choose the Lord. Amen.