687) “Who Do You Say That I Am?”

     I try to help my junior high confirmation students imagine what it would have been like to be alive when Jesus was here.  I illustrate that by describing what it would like if Jesus were to meet them in their lives today; perhaps sometime after school as they are walking to the bus.  “Let’s say,” I begin, “there was a man out on the sidewalk, telling you to obey the ten commandments and follow him because he could do anything.  He tells you he can walk on water, he can control the weather, he can even bring the dead back to life, because, he tells you, he is not just a man, he is really God who is here in the form of a man for a few years.  Would you listen to him, or would you try to get away from him?  What would you think of such a man,” I ask them.

     Well, even though what he says sounds like Jesus, if he was just out there on a normal day after school, they would not expect that it would be Jesus.  They all agree there would probably be something wrong with such a man, and they would not pay attention to him, but would want to get away from him.  I agree, saying that would be a good and logical response.  In fact, I say, that is how some people first responded to Jesus when he was here, saying he was crazy and should be avoided.  Others said he was a liar and a deceiver, and he was called all sorts of other bad names.  For them, the appearance of Jesus was just like it would be for you out on the sidewalk in front of school.  Jesus came to them in the midst of their daily, ordinary lives, and so what were they to think of this normal looking man saying things about being the Son of the almighty God?

     The interesting thing in the Gospels is that most people did not avoid Jesus, but came to him in large crowds.  People would drop everything to see him and hear him speak.  They would even leave their jobs and home to follow him.  And many people who did not believe in him at first, did come to believe in him later.  It is very interesting to look not only at what Jesus does in the Gospels, but also at how people respond to him, because they were there with him and had every reason to believe that he was just a normal man.

     Of course, Jesus started to give them reason to believe that he was more than a man.  I ask my students to imagine that the man on the sidewalk in front of school not only talked about being someone special with special powers, but also displayed some of those powers.  I ask, “What if he went up to your classmate who has been in a wheelchair ever since kindergarten, took her hand and told her to get up– and just like that she was walking and jumping and doing cartwheels?  What then?  Well then, of course, you might begin to have a very different reaction.”  And so it was in Jesus time.  As people heard Jesus teach, they realized that he was not crazy but very wise; and when they saw him heal the sick and do the many other miracles, they realized that he indeed was someone special and began to believe that he truly was the Son of God.

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Mark 3:20-22  — Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.  When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”  And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul!  By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

John 7:11-12  —  Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”  Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him.  Some said, “He is a good man.”  Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.”

John 3:1-2  —  Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.  For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

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Matthew 16:13-17  —  When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”

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Lord Jesus, make yourself to me

A living, bright reality.

More present to faith’s vision keen

Than any outward object seen.

–Hudson Taylor

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686) Advice for the Future

After Taylor died, her parents began sorting through her things. And that's when they found a letter she had written to her future self.

If only we could go back in time and share some wisdom with our younger selves.  Today’s meditation is about one little girl who wrote some advice to her older self to be read ten years in the future.
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     On April 13, 2013 twelve-year old Taylor Scout Smith wrote herself a letter– her ‘future’ self.  She put the letter in an envelope, wrote on it in big letters CONFIDENTIAL, along with a note that it is not to be opened by anyone but her, and not until April 13, 2023 when she would be twenty-two years old.  She then sealed it with tape and hid in her room.

     In January of the following year, Taylor’s parents found the letter when they were going through her room.  They opened it and read it; and then began to show it to others.  They were not snooping, and they were not disrespecting her privacy.  Taylor would not be able to open the letter in 2023 because she had died a few weeks earlier on January 5, 2014, quite suddenly, of complications from pneumonia.  She had written that the letter was for her eyes only, “unless said otherwise,” as she put it.  Her parents took that as permission to open it, and sharing it with others is helping them work through their grief.

     Some of the letter is cute, even a little silly, which is what you would expect from a twelve-year old.  She wonders if her future self has been to Dollywood lately, and if Dr. Who is still on television.

     Taylor then reminds her future self that the day the letter is to be opened is her little sister’s birthday– one year old in 2013, so she will be eleven in 2023.  Taylor also encourages herself to continue her education and get a college degree.

     So far, the letter is just interesting.  But then the tone turns more serious.  Taylor was a deeply spiritual girl, and, as one article described her, an ‘old soul,’ wise beyond her years.  And her early death lends a greater weight to the main message she wanted her future self to ponder.  She asked her twenty-two year old self:  “How’s your relationship with God?  Have you prayed, worshiped, read the Bible or gone to serve the Lord recently?  If not, get up and do so NOW!  I don’t care what point in our life we’re in right now, do it.  He was mocked, beaten, tortured, and crucified for you!  A sinless man, who never did you or any other person any wrong!  Now, have you gone on any more mission trips?”

     I wonder why Taylor felt the need to include that word of spiritual admonition.  Perhaps at her church she saw what is seen in so many churches– twelve-year olds believing in Jesus and going to worship and enjoying the Christian fellowship of the congregation’s children’s programs; but twenty-two year olds who have long ago disappeared from the church and no longer believing in anything.  Perhaps she felt her older self might need some encouragement to keep the faith from a little girl still on fire for the Lord.

     Taylor’s letter ends with an eerie reminder of the uncertainty of life:  “Remember,” she wrote, “it’s been ten years since I wrote this.  Stuff has happened good and bad.  That’s how life works, and you have to go with it.”

     In the words of an old saying, “The old will die; the young may die.”  We must not let the cares and craziness of life blind us to what really matters, now and for all eternity.  Thank God that He gave us such an important reminder in the words of a faithful little girl who had her eyes on the future.

Taylor Smith, a 12-year-old girl from Tennessee, died last week of complications from pneumonia.

Taylor Scout Smith  (2001-2014)

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Psalm 39:4-5  —  Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.  You have made my days a mere hand-breadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.

James 4:13-15  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Psalm 90:12  —  Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

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Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the judgment day.

–Thomas Ken  (1637-1711)

685) Led by the Spirit… To Be Tempted (part two)

          (…continued)  The devil will probably not be appearing to you to make the kind of all or nothing offer that he made to Dr. Faust.  But that doesn’t mean the devil is not tempting you in other ways.  I Peter 5:8 says that the devils prowls about the earth like a lion, seeking whom he may devour.  We will most certainly find ourselves being tempted in smaller, subtler ways than Jesus in the wilderness or Dr. Faust.

     A while back someone said to me, “My grandma always told me that if I don’t go to church every week I am going to go to hell.  Is that right?”

     I replied, “There is a short answer and a long answer to that question.  Let me give the short answer first, and that is NO, that is not right.  We are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for us.  We are not saved by going to church.  That’s the short answer.”     

     “But,” I added, “more needs to be said– so here is the long answer.  God does say in one of the commandments ‘Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy.’  Most Christians, in most times and places, have found going to church each week an important way to do that.  If you choose not to do that, you need to ask yourself what else you are doing on that day, or any other day, to keep it holy.  And if there is nothing you are doing that day to keep it holy, then what does that do to your faith to disobey so basic a command by God each and every week?”

     I went on to say, “I am not going to get into how often you have to go to church, or which excuses are valid and which are not, or anything like that.  As I said, we are not saved by going to church, but by faith in Jesus.  But going to church is one very basic thing that can strengthen and sustain faith, whereas when one decides not to go to church and not pay attention to God in any other way, faith can weaken and die, and the Bible says you have to have faith.  Even faith is a gift, but the Bible says faith comes by hearing the Word, so you have to keep yourself within hearing distance of where that Word is spoken– or faith will die.”

     This goes not only for going to church, but in all the ways we may obey or disobey God:  in telling the truth or telling a lie, in loving or in hating, in forgiving or in bearing a grudge, in being generous or being selfish, in being thankful or being jealous, in keeping our promises or in not being faithful to your commitments, in being honest or in being dishonest, in choosing to be kind or choosing to be mean, in trying to be understanding or in being quick to criticize, and so on.  Every act of obedience draws us closer to God, and every act of disobedience can draw us away from God.  

     Faust, in selling his soul to the devil, said to God, “I am not indebted to you for the life you gave me, so I want to forget you, God, and live for myself.”  In one big move, he then abandoned God and followed the devil.  The Bible cautions us to guard against temptation, because sin can, in a million smaller steps, lead us away from God just as sure and certain as Faust was led away in one big step.  God can forgive every sin, no matter how great.  But God will not force himself on someone who, because of sin after sin, is led farther and farther from God until they no longer look to or believe in God at all.  Grace is not automatically smeared over everything that moves.  One can turn their back on God.  One can be led away.  

      It was a bad deal Faust made with the devil, but at least he made a deal, and got something in this life for abandoning God.  But Satan gets all kinds of people to abandon God for nothing at all, as they lose their eternal hope because of a blind and foolish indifference.  

     So we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” or, may we not be led astray.  The Bible tells us that while God may test us, he does not tempt us to sin, so this prayer is a prayer for help in the midst of the temptations that are a part of every life.  In the wilderness Jesus resisted all temptations and defeated the power of the devil, and in the resurrection, Jesus defeated the power of death.  On our own, we can not defeat those powers as Jesus did, but God has promised that as we continue to look to Jesus in faith, his victories can become our victories.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, and you‘ll be all right.

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Romans 10:17  —  Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

I Peter 5:8,9a  —  Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith

John 16:1  —  (Jesus said),  ““All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.”

I Corinthians 16:13  —  Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

James 5:8  —  Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

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AN OLD HYMN:

In the hour of trial, Jesus, plead for me,
Lest by base denial I depart from Thee.
When Thou seest me waver, with a look recall,
Nor for fear or favor, suffer me to fall.

With forbidden pleasures should this vain world charm,
Or its sordid treasures spread to work me harm,
Bring to my remembrance sad Gethsemane,
Or, in darker semblance, cross-crowned Calvary.

Should Thy mercy send me sorrow, toil and woe,
Or should pain attend me on my path below,
Grant that I may never fail Thy hand to see;
Grant that I may ever cast my care on Thee.

–James Montgomery, 1834

684) Led by the Spirit… To Be Tempted (part one)

     

     Faust considering the offer of Mephistopheles (the devil)

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     One of the greatest works in the history of German literature is the play Faust, written by Johann Wolfgang Goethe.  Goethe worked on this play on and off for 56 years.  He started writing it as a young man of 27 years old, and did not finish it until just before he died in 1832 at the age of 83.  It is a long and complex work, getting into deep discussions of science, religion, psychology, philosophy, history, and more.  It is not easy reading.  But the play’s setting for all those deep discussions is a simple and thought-provoking old German legend about a man who was tempted.

     The story begins with a conversation in heaven between God and the devil, much like in the story of Job.  The devil makes a wager with God, betting that he can steal away from God the soul of a good man, a brilliant scientist named Dr. Faust.  Determined to win the bet, the devil goes to work on Dr. Faust.  The devil knows what Faust loves, what he wants in life, and what his frustrations are.  After a lengthy discussion of all this, the devil makes his move.  The devil offers to serve Faust, giving him everything he wants for his entire life, on the condition that when Faust’s life is over the devil may have his soul in hell for all eternity.  Dr. Faust, desperate to have everything he wants, and to achieve all his goals, agrees to the offer.  After all, he was just a young man, and old age and death were a long ways off.

     God agreed to this testing of Dr. Faust’s faith and goodness.  I do not know what originally inspired the telling of this old German legend, but it could have been inspired by story of the temptation of Jesus by the devil in Matthew 4:1-11.  There is no talk of a wager there, but verse one says, “Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Led by the spirit, to be tempted by the devil. Then, the devil tempted Jesus three times, each time offering Jesus what he would want and need most of all– on the condition that Jesus would serve and obey the devil and not God.  The story continues (verses 2-11):

After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.  For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus answered him, “It is also written:  ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written:  ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”  Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

     Jesus had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, so he would have been hungry; and the first temptation was to turn stones into bread.  Jesus could have done this.  He would in a few months miraculously feed 5,000 people with just a couple loaves of bread and a few fish.  But Jesus refused to do this at the devil’s command, saying, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

     In the second temptation, you need to imagine the human side of Jesus.  Jesus is just beginning his ministry and might be wondering about this call by heavenly Father into this work.   The devil told Jesus to jump off the temple and let the angels take care of him.  It is as if the devil were saying, “Maybe you ought give this religion business a little test.  Go ahead and jump, and make sure that God will be taking care of you.”  Again Jesus refused, saying “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  As with Faust, there is a test going on here.  But the human Jesus knows that he is the one being tested, and it is not for him to decide to switch roles and start testing God the Father.

     Then came the biggest temptation of all.  Jesus was here to save the world, and the devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, if only Jesus would fall down and worship him; or, sell his soul, just like what was offered to Dr. Faust.  Again Jesus refused, saying that the Lord God alone should be worshiped and served.  The devil then left Jesus.

     This story not only teaches us about Jesus, but also about ourselves; we who also face tests and temptations every day.  And one of the things we learn here is that we must not give in to the temptation to allow the little things in life draw us away from what is most important.  Jesus did not allow even the temptation to take charge of the whole world draw him away from God.  Later on he would say to his disciples, “What good is it if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?”

     Goethe made this clear in his play when Dr. Faust was nearing the end of his life.  Life has indeed been full and good.  The devil has fulfilled his promise and given Faust everything.  But now, life will soon be over and Faust had long ago signed away his eternal hope, and he is in deep despair.  The deal he made as a young man was a bad one.

     There is a caution here for everyone.  The Bible’s emphasis on God’s love and forgiveness and grace is wonderful,  but it must not blind us to the fact that the Bible also speaks of life as a test and a challenge and filled with many temptations.  Even Jesus faced such temptation.  And although the Bible says God’s compassion and grace is boundless, it does not say that grace is automatic.  The Bible says we must resist the devil, fight against temptation, stand firm, and not fall away.  Surely, as Faust learned too late, there is no greater loss than to lose one’s eternal salvation.  Goethe’s long story shows that nothing in life, nothing in the whole world, is worth trading in for that.  Any reader will, at the end of the story, see that Dr. Faust made a very bad bargain indeed.  We must not make that mistake.  (continued…)

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Lord God, our strength, the battle of good and evil rages within and around us, and our ancient foe tempts us with his deceits and empty promises.  Keep us steadfast in your Word, and, when we fall, raise us again, and restore us through your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship  (#25)

683) Whatever You Do…

If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.  Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Colossians 3:23  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

I Corinthians 10:31  —  Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Ephesians 4:1b  —  …I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

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Almighty God, you have so linked our lives with one another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives:  So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good: and, as we seek a proper return for our labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

–Book of Common Prayer

682) An Unnamed Nigerian Martyr

From Randy Alcorn’s blog at:  www.epm.org , August 15, 2014, written by Eternal Perspectives Ministries employee Tami Yeager, who is also a volunteer at Voice of the Martyrs organization.

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Voice of the Martyrs Monument: A Nigerian Woman

     The Voice of The Martyrs USA ministry office in Bartlesville, Oklahoma has a Martyrs Monument.  Displayed on that monument are the names of many martyrs, each one representing a real person with a real story.  I love to stand near this memorial and slowly read the names and brief descriptions.  During a recent visit I found myself once again drawn to the monument.  On this particular day there was one memorial stone that stood out to me.  It simply read A Nigerian Woman.

     Unlike the others, her name had not been inscribed in the beautiful stone slab.  She had been beaten to death by an angry mob before the authorities could learn her name.  I wondered what she looked like, and how old she was.  She was someone’s daughter.  Did she have sisters and brothers?  Was she married, and did she have children?  These are questions I will not know the answers to on this side of eternity.

     I imagined what her village may have looked like and wondered what must have taken place in her life leading up to that day in 2006.  I wondered how she had been prepared for that moment.  Did she wake up on that fateful morning with a sense that this day would be different?  Was it customary for her to share her faith with others?  Surely she knew that sharing Christ with her Muslim neighbors could cost her.  I believe she had counted the cost, and was well acquainted with the price one could pay.  I imagine love was her motivator, and its weight far outweighed her fear.

     Did people silently slip into their homes as voices began to rise in the streets that day?  Were children warned to hide in the dark, and be still?  As an evil hatred raged hot amongst the mob that surrounded her, did those who believed as she did stay silent?  Was her body left in the dust of the street for days as a warning to others who might have otherwise been swayed to believe as she did?  Like Stephen in the book of Acts, was she looking into heaven while they beat her?  Were the painful blows from many fists and feet brought to an abrupt halt as she surrendered her spirit, exhaling her last earthly breath, and simultaneously taking in her first heavenly breath?

     What was it like for her to open her eyes and find that she was now in the arms of the One whom she had exchanged her life for?  Standing to receive her white robe, did she recognize some of those who surrounded her?  Did she then hear the cheers from a great cloud of witnesses that had been ever so faint before, and now could be heard with vivid clarity?  Was she overcome with indescribable joy, peace, and happiness at the sound of the King’s words, “Well done my good and faithful servant, now take your place and wait a little longer”?

     I wonder who among the angry mob walked away that day unable to shake what they witnessed in her.  She had been faithful unto death.  Were there some who closed their eyes that night unable to escape the images now playing in their minds?  Were the words she spoke to them being repeated in their thoughts?  Were any of those who took part in her murder later visited in dreams and visions by the One she told them about?  Would some of those who hit her, kicked her, spit upon her, and cursed her later fall on their knees and cry out for forgiveness?

     The truth is I do not know any more about the Nigerian woman’s story then what is written in stone.  I am, however, keenly aware that in many places of the world today suffering for the sake of the gospel is “normal” Christianity.  The little I do know of my Nigerian sister fuels a passion in me to give her, and others like her, a voice.  I look forward to the day I meet my sister.  It is then that I will learn all of her story.

The Martyrs Monument

The Voice of the Martyrs headquarters,  Bartlesville, Oklahoma

http://www.persecution.com

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Matthew 5:10  —  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

A MOB KILLING FROM THE BIBLE:

Acts 7:55-60  —  Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him…  While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he fell asleep.

File:Cigoli - The Stoning of St Stephen - WGA04883.jpg

The Stoning of Stephen, Cigoli, 1597

Revelation 6:11  —  Then a white robe was given to each of them.  And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.

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Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

–St. Ignatius  (1491-1556)

681) Worship (part four of four)

     (…continued…)  With all that in mind, think again about what was in part one about how relationships die from lack of communication.  Much has been said about whether or not one can be a Christian without going to church, and the short answer is yes, of course, you can be a Christian without going to church.  I’ve seen some wonderful Christians who did not ever go to church.  We are not saved because we go to church, we are saved because Jesus died on the cross to forgive us of our sins, and has promised that all who believe in him shall be saved.  John 3:16 doesn’t say one word about going to church, and yet the whole Gospel is right there:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whosever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  See?  There is not a word about going to church.  But there is in John 3:16 that word about ‘believing,’ and believing implies some sort of relationship, some sort of connection, or response, or whatever you want to call it.  God’s love is freely given, but it is not forced on one who will not have it.  The danger of no worship is the same danger that is in any relationship in which there is no conversation.  In time, the relationship will die.  There are warnings in the Bible about that.  Because when people insist on paying no attention to God, in time, they will not care at all about God or His promises.  And then, faith and belief are gone, and the John 3:16 promise is lost for all eternity.

     Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota is a small school.  It was smaller still when I attended there in the 1970’s, with only 200 students.  Everybody knew everybody and I made some very good friends.  When we graduated we all said we’d keep in touch, but we didn’t.  A few of us went on to Mankato State, and we’d see each other occasionally.  I went back to homecoming the year after I graduated, and many others went back then also, and we had a great time.  But that was it.  Since then, I’ve kept in touch with only one friend, and we are now very good friends– but there is no one else.   A while back I was on the Bethany campus and ran into an old classmate– not a close friend, but a guy I knew back then.  I recognized him only because he teaches there now and gets his photo in the college newsletter occasionally.  He did not recognize me, and I did not refresh his memory.  I just asked where the bookstore was, and he told me; and that was it.  We would not have had much to say to each other anyway.  It’s been too long without any conversation. 

     Worship is what keeps the conversation going and the relationship alive.  I have known some wonderful Christians who did not go to church.  But each one had found other ways to keep the relationship alive, usually by their own disciplined life of prayer and Bible reading.  Many folks are not that disciplined, and drift into disinterest and unbelief.  God does not leave them, but they leave God.

     Worship has, for countless generations, provided the opportunity for God and his people to keep in touch.  Even Jesus went to worship on every Sabbath, ‘as was his custom,’ says Luke 4:16.  Let’s not imagine that we can get along without that which Jesus himself needed. 

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Exodus 20:8  —  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Luke 4:16  —  (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.

Hebrews 10:22a…23…25  —  Let us with confidence draw near to God with a sincere heart, in the full assurance of faith… holding to the hope we profess, for he who has promised us is faithful…  And let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another as we see the Day approaching.

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MORNING PRAYER BY JOHN STOTT:

Good morning, Heavenly Father; good morning, Lord Jesus; good morning, Holy Spirit.  Heavenly Father, I worship you, creator and sustainer of the universe.  Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.  Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.  Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. 

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.  Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.  Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.  Amen.

Image result for worship the lord images

680) Worship (part three of four)

     (…continued…)  Worship is communication.  It is our ongoing conversation with God.  Yes, we pray our own prayers at home, and yes we can read the Bible on our own, and should.  But for thousands of years, this weekly hour of worship has been the primary place for this ongoing conversation.  And when you think about it, our conversation with God that goes on during this hour is not all that different from our conversations with each other.

     Let me give you a few examples.  In our conversations with each other, we are always eager to share good news.  The word ‘Gospel,’ which is at the center of worship, comes from an old English word which means Good News.  Isn’t that what the angel said he came to tell the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth?  “I have come to bring you good news of a great joy for all people– a Savior has been born,” said the angel.  At the heart of the conversation with God that is our worship, is the sharing of this good news.  To give another example, our daily conversations begin with a greeting, perhaps a ‘hello’ or a ‘how ya doin’?’  Worship begins with a greeting from II Corinthians.  The pastor says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all;” and the congregations then says, “And also with you.”  Worship ends with a benediction, and so do our conversations.  Our farewell word ‘good-bye’ is in fact a shortened form of a benediction, “God be with ye.” Over time, ‘God be with ye’ became simply ‘good-bye.’  Also, in any close relationship there will be times when we do each other wrong; and then, if the relationship is to survive, somebody has to say ‘I’m sorry’ and somebody else has to say ‘You are forgiven.’  In church we call that confession and absolution.  We need to have that conversation with God each and every week, and that is how we begin worship.  Sometimes in our conversations we need to ask each other for help.  In worship, we pray for God’s help; and then, in our offerings, we make a return of what God has already given us as we offer to help with God’s work in the congregation and around the world.  In our conversations, we will at times compliment one another, so in worship we will certainly want to praise God for all he has done for us.  We do that in the hymns, the Psalms, and sometimes in the prayers.  Are you getting the idea?

     Worship is a conversation with God that is, in some ways, very much like our conversations with each other.  And this conversation with God is, of course, not limited to worship, but is also a description of our personal prayer life.

 (…continued…)

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I Samuel 3:10  —  The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”  Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Psalm 142:1-2  —  I cry aloud to the LordI lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.  I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble.

II Samuel 22:7  —  In my distress I called to the Lord; I called out to my God.  From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.

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What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?  Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you?  Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

–Joseph Scriven  (1819-1886)

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679) Worship (part two of four)

     

     (…continued…)  The Lutheran liturgy makes sure that when you come to church you will hear God’s Word.  As a preacher, I take comfort in that.  There are many weeks that I can’t come up with anything I am satisfied with for the sermon, but still, it is my job to be in the pulpit every Sunday morning at the appointed time and begin speaking.  And I know very well that not even my very best sermons are meaningful or helpful to everyone.  But the value of the worship hour doesn’t depend just on me and my sermon. The service itself is filled with God’s Word to us.

     At the very beginning, after we confess our sins, the pastor announces to the congregation God’s word of forgiveness, as Jesus Christ himself authorized in John 20.  In the greeting we receive a Biblical blessing from II Corinthians.  In the benediction we receive the words of blessing from the Old Testament book of Numbers.   In the Scripture readings we hear read four selections from the Bible.  And in the sermon I do my best to bring a message based on God’s Word and applied to our lives today.  We hear God speak to us in the worship service each week.  That is one side of the communication.

     Then, as in all good communication, we respond, speaking back to God.  We pray to God, we sing hymns to God, and we confess our sins to God.  Even as we speak to God in the different parts of the service, we do so in words from the Bible, responding in ways God’s people have spoken to God for thousands of years.  We use words from I John as we confess our sins.  In the Kyrie, we pray the prayer of the tax-collector that received the praise of Jesus when we pray simply, “Lord, have mercy.”  The Hymn of Praise begins with the words sung by the angels on the night Jesus was born, and in the Alleluia we ask in the words of Peter, ‘Where else shall go, Lord, you have the words of eternal life.’  I begin each sermon with a prayer, and end each sermon with a blessing, both also from the Bible.  After the offering we sing some words written by David in Psalm 51, and we then pray the prayer taught to us by Jesus himself in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  We also sing songs written by others, and pray prayers written by others– or from our own heart.  In all these ways, we carry on our end of this conversation with God. 

(…continued…)

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A FEW OF THE SCRIPTURE PASSAGES USED IN WORSHIP:

II  Corinthians 13:14  —   May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

I John 1:8-9  —  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

John 20:20-23  —  Jesus said, “Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Luke 2:14  —  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Psalm 19:14  —  Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

Philippians 4:7  —  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

John 6:68  —  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

Numbers 6:23b-27  —  …Bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:  The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:  The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.”  And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.

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Luke 18:13b  —   …God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Psalm 51:10  —   Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

678) Worship (part one of four)

     My wife and I were visiting with some old friends a while ago.  We had a nice time talking, laughing, joking, and reminiscing.  On the way home, Nancy said, “Karen told me that her and Bill have not spoken to each other for six weeks; not since they had a big fight after their son’s graduation.”  I couldn’t believe it.  I said, “How can that be?  We just had a great time with them.  Everything seemed fine.”  Nancy replied, “Karen said they are able to put on a show like that whenever they are around other people; but at home, there is not one word to each other.”

     I was shocked and saddened, and then, very worried for them.  How long can a marriage last when there is no communication?  Would we ever get together with them as couples again?

     Such refusal to communicate will kill any relationship.  Words spoken in anger can be very bad, and much regretted later, but that is not the worst one can do.  Sarcasm doesn’t help much in the communication process, but that also is not the worst.  Making fun of another person is not very nice, but one can do worse even than that.  The worst way one can treat another person, or we might say, the most powerful way to show contempt for them, is to ignore them, to treat them as if they are not even there, refusing to hear what they say or to respond.  This is, in effect, treating them as if they were dead, and one can’t do much worse than that.  In its milder forms, this has been called the ‘silent treatment,’ and we’ve all probably done that a time or two, hopefully for only a little while.  It is sometimes even a good idea to remain silent for a while, especially if everyone needs to cool down a bit.  But when that goes on for six weeks, it is a sign of real trouble.  The Bible doesn’t say ‘don’t ever get mad,’ but it does say, ‘don’t let the sun go down on your anger.’  A relationship will die if there is no communication, whether that is due to anger, revenge, or even just plain lack of interest.

     This is also true of our relationship with God.  God has chosen to create us and communicate with us; and, he has given us the opportunity to communicate with him.  He has invited us to do so anytime.  We should not neglect so great a privilege.  We should not ignore God.  We should not by our silence, or by refusing to listen or respond, show contempt for God.

     But how does one talk to God?  I have never seen God, and you probably have not either.  We have all prayed, but most people do not hear God talk back in an audible voice.  I never have.  God does not very often speak to anyone that way.  He has spoken like that, says the Bible.  But even in the Bible God did not speak directly to very many people.  So what do we do?

     Worship is, at its most basic level, communication with God.  During the worship hour God speaks to us in a variety of ways, and we respond to God in a variety of ways.  This communication is not exactly the same as the conversations over a cup of coffee with others after the service, but worship is most definitely communication.  We might wish for something more personal, and in heaven we will have again have the open communication we were created for.  But because of our sin, God is hidden from our sight, and to worship in some form is the Biblical way to still keep in touch.  Again, because of sin, worship will always be inadequate and will always disappoint us.  But in worship we still do hear God’s Word and speak our word to God.  We communicate, and we need to do that to keep the relationship alive.

     God has spoken directly to a few people over the years.  He has even appeared to a few in various forms.  And, God was here on this earth in person in Jesus Christ for 33 years.  God has, in these ways, chosen to speak to this world in visible and audible ways.  We may not have seen or heard him ourselves; but we have, in the Bible, a full account of what God had to say to us.  The Bible is the primary way that God communicates with us now.  It is, as we say, God’s Word to us.  Some folks read the Bible every day, and some folks don’t read it at all.  But the worship service proclaims God’s Word, and we respond to that word with our hymns and our prayers.  Worship is one of the primary opportunities we have to communicate with God.  

(continued…)

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In the Bible, God speaks to us.  In prayer, we speak to God.

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Hebrews 1:1-2a  —  In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.

Jeremiah 22:29  —  O land, land, land, hear the word of the Lord!

Hosea 4:1  —  Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land:  “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.”

Zechariah 7:12  —  They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets.  So the Lord Almighty was very angry.

Psalm 68:26  —  Praise God in the great congregation; praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel.

Luke 4:8  —  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

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PRAYER BEFORE WORSHIP:

Almighty God, you pour out your grace upon all who desire it.  Deliver us, we pray, as we come into your presence, from cold hearts and wandering thoughts, that with steady minds and burning zeal we may worship you in spirit and in truth; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship  (#205)