God’s Gopher

Reading for the day (Sunday, August 13, 2017):

Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

In today’s text, we hear of God’s call to Jeremiah to be a prophet.  During this time the descendants of Abraham have been growing in numbers, but not necessarily growing and deepening their relationship with God.  Instead they have turned away from God.  They have neglected God’s Word.  They are no longer walking by faith.  Instead they believed that the temple in Jerusalem that King Solomon built was their safety net.  As long as God was in the temple, nothing bad would ever happen to them.  For my hometown of Chandler, it was believed that the valley that the town is in would never get hit by a tornado because if a storm would appear, it would simply jump over the valley.  Well 25 years ago that was proven wrong.  For the Israelites during Jeremiah’s time, they believed that the temple (like the valley in Chandler) was their safety net.  As long as God continued to be in the temple, they figured they were safe from harm.  They were walking by luck, not by faith.  And so since they were only walking by luck they had forgotten what true faith and worship was.  To them, God in the temple became their good luck charm, instead of a divine power who gives life and cares for them, like a parent cares for their children.

Sound anything like today?  People ignoring faith and trust in God; abandoning the church to follow after their own interests.  Figuring that God can’t help them anyway.  Yeah, sounds a lot like today.  So God calls on Jeremiah to bring these people back to the faith, especially in preparation for their time in exile and the destruction of the temple.  If people thought that God in the temple was their safety net, what do you think they would do when the temple was destroyed?  41 years after Jeremiah was called to be a prophet that is exactly what happened.  Just under 600 years before Jesus was born, a group of people known as the Babylonians came and took over Jerusalem, exiled many by hauling them off to their own country, and destroying the temple where God was.  So much for their safety net.

Now before all of this takes place, God calls Jeremiah to minister to these people.  God wants Jeremiah to get these people to repent and turn back to Him.  This is quite the undertaking as there were many that had turned away.  So Jeremiah feels that he is incapable of completing the job that God has called him to do.  And do you blame him.  Don’t you feel incapable of reaching out to the unchurched or the ones who have fallen away from the church?  And besides, that’s the job of a missionary or pastor, right?  Except God calls all of us to a life of service to Him for the sake of His kingdom.  So it actually isn’t solely the responsibly of a few, it is the responsibility of all.

And we need not fear our lack of skills, because just as God reminds Jeremiah that no matter what troubles he faces, He would be with Jeremiah; this same promise is for us and all of God’s servants.  No matter what troubles assail you, your faithful God stands with you, always.  So no matter if you are lonely, or stressed, or scared, or nervous, or afraid; our God stands with you in whatever life throws your way.

Just as with Moses, Jeremiah didn’t want to go and serve the Lord.  He told God, “I don’t know how to speak…I’m just a boy, just a child.”[1]  Jeremiah basically wants God to choose someone else.  Oh if only it was that simple right.  God, send someone else to do the work that we don’t want to do.  It’s like a gopher on a construction site; the one who runs around doing all of the grunt work that no else wants to do.  God, just call in the gopher.  That’s what Jeremiah wanted, and he got exactly what he wanted.  God did call in the gopher, He just made Jeremiah the gopher.  Jeremiah said he didn’t know how to speak.  So God reached out and touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “Now I have put my words in your mouth…today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms…”[2]  God calls us to be the gopher, to do the work that no one else wants to do: helping those in need, ministering to the sick and dying, befriending the “troubled kids,” reaching out to those who society pushes aside.  Jeremiah wasn’t called to judge but to speak, and the words that he spoke were words from God because He promised to be with Jeremiah every step of the way.  We don’t know what the future holds for us or our congregation or even this parish.  Many of you are probably like me and feel incapable of fulfilling God’s mission that we are called to do.  But I know, because I’ve felt it and experienced it, that by the grace of God we are giving the ability to carry out God’s mission in the world.  We are giving those gifts.  We can do this.  We can be God’s gopher.  And no matter what we are faced with, God faithfully stands with us.

Even though he didn’t believe it, because God was with him, Jeremiah does go and delivers God’s Word to His people.  All because God was with him and gave him the ability to fulfill what God was calling him to do.

Much of the book of Jeremiah is a word of judgment; naming all of the things that the people had been doing wrong.  But four chapters in the middle of the book are all about hope for the future.  Jeremiah proclaims:

“The days are surely coming…when [the Lord] will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest…for [the Lord] will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”[3]

Jeremiah is telling the people that they need to turn back to God because something better is coming.  Something so great that even all of their sins will be forgiven forever.  For God Himself was planning on coming to save and redeem the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross.  Because of Jesus we need not fear being God’s gophers, the storm may very well meet us in the valley, but no matter what trouble arises in our lives, or whatever mission God calls us to do; we are not alone.  God has always been there, and promises to continue to always be with us, until we are all called home to our heavenly home where our gopher holes will be turned into mansions and we will finally be able to rest from our labors.  And we will finally get to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Jeremiah 1:6, NRSV

[2] Jeremiah 1:9, NRSV

[3] Jeremiah 31:31-34, NRSV

“Goodness in Action”

Reading for the day (Wednesday, August 2, 2017):

Micah 5:2-4; 6:6-8

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Throughout the summer, we have been working through stories from the Old Testament.  We heard how Jacob and his whole family ended up in Egypt.  And how Joseph was able to keep everyone fed through the seven years of famine.  And then how new leadership came to power and forgot all about the Israelites living in Egypt.  So they were turned into slaves, but God calls on Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land through the Red Sea.  And through great kings like David and Solomon, a great nation of God’s people was created.  Which leads us to our text for today, the story of Micah.

Micah is a prophet in Israel 700 some years before Jesus was born.  This great nation of Israel that King David and King Solomon built has weakened.  The nation has weakened because of infighting, which led to the nation splitting into 2 separate kingdoms (Israel in the north, and Judah in the south).  The split creates a weaker nation, one that cannot always defend itself.  No different than fighting within families, churches, communities, or countries.  Think of what civil wars do to countries.

The kingdom is split, one half of the nation is already in exile and the prophets have already predicted that the other half will also be exiled; taken away from their homeland and hauled off to another country.  So in comes the prophet Micah who brings a word of judgement to all of those who are failing in their responsibilities to God and to their community.  Micah mainly directs his judgment upon the religious and political leaders of the time; saying that they are the reason everyone is in this mess.  These leaders where abusing their power and authority.  They were serving their own interests at the expense of others.

Micah’s word of judgment is not just for the religious and political leaders of his time.  We, too can hear those words of judgment.  As a spouse, a parent, an employer, a council member, a teacher, a pastor, we all are called not to take the power and authority that we have in our homes, work, school, church, or community and abuse that power for selfish gain.  So when you are selfish and only think about yourself instead of your children’s needs.  Or when you only think about your own profit without taking into consideration the employees that work for you.  Or when you only consider your likes and interests in the church without listening and hearing the likes and interests of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Then we are abusing the power and authority we have been given for selfish gain.  And this is exactly what Micah is preaching against.  He says that the divisions and subsequent exiles came about because of the selfishness of the leaders and the community members.

But like any good prophet, Micah not only brings a word of judgment to the leaders and the people, he also brings a word of hope from God to His people.  Hope that something better is coming.  Hope that God has seen their pain and heard their cries for help.  So Micah says, “Bethlehem, you who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth from me one who is to rule in Israel.”  Bethlehem, not Jerusalem is where this new ruler will come from.  Welcome, not Minneapolis is where God has chosen to raise up a new ruler.  Bethlehem was not a big town.  In fact it was considered rather insignificant; kind of like how we can feel in rural America, rather insignificant and unimportant.  But even in the insignificant, unimportant areas of the world, God’s Word still comes to us; naming our sins and calling us to repentance.  But also giving us a word of hope.  Hope that even in a small community, there are people who need to hear God’s Word.  Hope that even in a small community, there are youth who long for meaning in their life.  Hope that even in a small congregation, God is still with us in the ministry that we do.  If God is able to raise up a savior for the world out of the little town of Bethlehem, what’s stopping Him from doing great and wonderful things in and through our little congregation?

So Micah calls on the people to turn from their old sinful ways of doing things and embrace a new way of life.  And not only a new way of life, but a new relationship with God.  A relationship that is not based on score-keeping, as in counting how many hours you spend helping others, or how many worship services you attend, or how many times you have received communion, or how much money you have put in the offering plate.  Instead, Micah says that with this new ruler that will come from Bethlehem, God’s requirements for His people have changed.  God no longer requires burnt offerings or thousands of rams, or ten thousands of rivers of oil.  Instead, because of Christ, God simply asks of us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Micah says, “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.”  Do justice.  So be fair and honest with each other.  Don’t use your power and authority for selfish gain.  But also be fair and honest with yourself.  Many times I know that I am my worst critic.  I’m harder on myself than I am on other people.  So this is a good reminder for me as well, be fair and honest with yourself.

Love kindness.  So be loyal and steadfast.  Minnesota sports fans know loyalty really well.  But be loyal and steadfast to your spouse, to your children, to your employees, to your church, to your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Martin Luther describes “steadfast love” as “goodness in action.”[1]  Be good, kind, and loyal to each other.  Remember that we are all in this together.  All working together for the sake of growing God’s Kingdom.

Finally, walk humbly.  So be modest and reverent or respectful, not just with each other but also with God.  Be reverent and respectful to the one who gave us life and all of the blessings that we enjoy each and every day.  Walking humbly with our God, means always being conscious of our own dependence on the Lord.

We know that we all have made mistakes.  We know that we are selfish at times.  We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.[2]  Our problem is not a failure to know but a failure to do.  We know what we are to do.  We know what God has called us to do.  But where we fall short is in the action.  “God showed His steadfast love for us by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.  We are ‘justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:24).  The Holy Spirit leads redeemed sinners [like ourselves] to walk in justice, kindness, and humility.”[3]  May God not only help us to hear that call to walk in justice, kindness, and humility, but may He also lead us to love and serve our neighbors.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Luther, Martin (AE 14:50)

[2] Romans, 3:23

[3] The Lutheran Study Bible, p. 1495

Specks and Logs, Logs and Specks

Reading for the day (Sunday, June 18, 2017):

2 Samuel 12:1-9

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Today’s story centers on King David.  Now we don’t have time to cover the entire story of King David.  Because it would take too long to tell how God chose David among all of Jesse’s sons.  Or how as a little boy, David defeated Goliath, the Philistine.  Or even how David made Israel a great nation, conquered Jerusalem, and paved the way for a temple to be built (which was later built by King Solomon).

King David is known as a great king who had many accomplishments and who was very successful.  However, no one is perfect.  And so the story for today is about one of King David’s biggest mistakes.  His eyes locked on a beautiful woman who was not his wife.  He desired her, got her pregnant, and tried to wiggle his way out of his sin.  But when that didn’t work, instead of confessing his wrongdoing, he committed another sin – ordering the killing of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah.  After receiving word that Uriah is dead, King David takes Bathsheba as his wife.  So this great king of Israel, known for his wonderful accomplishments and being chosen by God, not only commits adultery but also commits murder.

God certainly is not pleased with His chosen servant.  So God sends in His prophet, Nathan, to try and straighten David out.  And to easily get the point across, Nathan tells a story.  A story of a rich man and a poor man.  The rich man had many possessions.  So many possessions he probably didn’t know what to do with all of them, kind of like my kids’ toys.  The poor man had barely anything, just one lonely lamb that he loved and cared for it like it was his own child – the lamb ate and rested with the poor man.  Nathan tells David that one day a traveler came to the rich man’s house.  The traveler’s name is not even mentioned, so we can assume that this was not a very important guest of the rich man’s house; just some no named traveler stopping by.  And where did the rich man go to get food to feed his guest who wasn’t all that important?  His own barn?  No, he didn’t take from the multitude of livestock that he had.  Why waste perfectly good livestock on some no named traveler?  Instead he went and took the poor man’s one and only lamb.  As should be the case, this story upsets King David.  He is so upset that he even calls for this rich man to die because of his cold hearted action.  Then Nathan says, “David, you are that man.”

Just as it was so easy for King David to cast judgment on others, we too don’t have any problem casting judgment onto others.  It always seems easier for us to see the flaws and specks in other people’s eyes before ever noticing our own flaws and the logs in our own eyes.  David quickly jumps to call for the death of this rich man for what he had done.  But of course not seeing any fault in his own actions.  We are so quick to judge, aren’t we?  We look at the type of vehicle someone drives, or the quality of clothes they wear, or the job that they have, or how their children behave in public, and it is so easy for us to draw up a conclusion about them without even knowing the full story.  It’s like what Jesus told His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?”[1]

King David quickly found the speck in the rich man’s eye that needed to be taken out.  But when Nathan said to David, “You are that man.”  Nathan made David realize that there was a log in his own eye.

A Sunday School teacher having just finished her lesson for the day and wanted to make sure that she had made her point.  She asked the children, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?”  There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up. “Sin,” he said.  Sure you can’t obtain the forgiveness of sins if you haven’t sinned, but we certainly don’t need to go searching for sins to commit just so that we can receive from God the forgiveness of our sins.  We already have sinned; all of us.  We all deserve punishment for our sins.  But how can we receive the forgiveness of our sins if we never notice the log in our own eyes?  We can’t!  It’s so easy for us to see and name the sins of others, but until you acknowledge your own sin and shortcomings, you will never truly know the forgiveness of your sins.

After Nathan calls him out, King David finally notices the log in his own eyes.  He acknowledges his sin and seeks forgiveness from God.  His request is granted, God does forgive David for what he has done.

David’s confession to God for his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah has long been understood to be Psalm 51.  David begins his confession with, “Have mercy on me, O God…according to your abundant mercy…cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”  Here David is acknowledging his sin.  He knows that he’s got a big, huge log in his own eye, and he knows that God is merciful.  He calls for God to wash him, so that he is so clean of sin that he is whiter than the snow.  And then David uses those very familiar words that we typically sing as our gifts are offered to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

If you’ve ever lost a job, or got kicked off the team, this is what David is feeling like.  He fears that because of his sin and what he did, that God will disown him.  So David confesses his faults to God and cries out, “Don’t blot me out, don’t forget about me!”  David desires restoration.  He wants to make things right again.

Our sin hinders our relationship with God.  When we truly confess our sins, we are striving to make things right with God again.  Is maybe part of the problem with society today is that we have become so prideful, that we have forgotten how to admit our faults and shortcomings, and confessing our sins to God and to each other?  I might be wrong, but I think we could be better off if we focused more on getting the log out of our own eyes than trying to find the specks in the eyes of our neighbors.

So as King David did, we cry out to God, “Have mercy on me…according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.”  Our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love all because of Christ’s sacrifice for us and for the forgiveness of our sins.  Because of Jesus, your heart is made clean.  In baptism you received a new and right spirit within you.  God promises to always be with you, until the end of the age – He will not cast you away from His presence.  And when you truly have received the forgiveness of your sins, meaning you truly believe that God indeed has forgiven you, then you experience that joy of your salvation that King David mentions.  That joy that you indeed are solely, and completely forgiven of all your sins and that your relationship with God has been made right.  Not because of what you have done, but because of what Jesus has done for you through the cross.  For this will certainly make us all sing for joy.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Matthew 7:3, NRSV

Measuring or Cutting?

Reading for the day (Sunday, June 18, 2017):

Genesis 6:1-9:17

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Many of you already know that I enjoy woodworking.  Of course I haven’t been spending much time in the wood shop lately for obvious reasons.  But now when I am working on something in the shop, I sometimes will build following a plan or blueprint.  But most of the time I have an idea that I draw up either on paper or in my head and just get to work.  The joy of doing it this way is that what I build then is certainly an original work, because I designed it.  Doing it this way is also frustrating, especially when it isn’t working.  I don’t give up very easily on things.  So when a joint isn’t matching up, or it just doesn’t look right, I keep trying different ways to make it work.  But sometimes you just have to start over.

I remember a time when I was younger and my mom asked me to make pudding for supper.  So I grabbed a box of pudding out of the cupboard, opened the package and dumped the contents in a mixing bowl.  Now what is the only other ingredient that you need to make pudding?  Milk, of course.  Well, I had made pudding before and I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing, so I just starting mixing it up.  And come on, it’s pudding, one can’t screw it up that bad, can you?  Well, Mom got home and I was still mixing this pudding and I told her there was a problem with the pudding, it wasn’t setting up; it was too runny.  Thinking that I didn’t add enough milk, Mom adds more milk to try to thicken it up.  But it turns out, if you try to make pudding with water it won’t set up, no matter how much milk you try to add to it.

At the beginning of Genesis, we hear how God created the world in six days.  His creation was beautiful and properly ordered, functioning as it was designed.  But it didn’t take very long for humanity to mess it all up – kind of like a young boy trying to make pudding with water.  With the entrance of sin into the world, all of creation would be effected and changed forever.  Generations later, God gets so fed up with what He had created and decides to start over and begin anew.  So He flooded all of creation to start fresh.

Starting over or trying a different approach does not mean that you have failed.  You are not perfect.  And because of your sin, you can’t be perfect.  This is why you don’t get everything right the first time.  You do screw up.  You do make mistakes.  You do have to start over.  But you will never start over and begin anew, unless you take a risk and go far enough to fail.  If something isn’t working, you will never know to start over unless you go far enough to fail.  You’ve heard the phrase, “Measure twice, cut once.”  Well even if you measure four, five, or six times, but never cut, you’ll never know if that will be the right piece or not.

Are you measuring or cutting?  Simply cutting without measuring is rather foolish, but if you measure and never cut; that too is foolish.  Noah certainly had to measure in order to build the ark that God called him to build.  The ark was to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high.  Now a cubit is the length of your forearm – from your elbow to the tip of your finger.  That distance is one cubit.  Hopefully Noah was the only one measuring, but the 450 foot long ark would never had happened had Noah measured but never cut the wood.  Are you measuring, calculating the risk of doing ministry?  Are you ready to make that cut, taking a risk for the sake of the Gospel?  Or are you worried that you might get something wrong and fail?

Let me ask this question in a different way.  In your parenting and/or grandparenting (because I think that is a thing…grandparenting), do you allow your child or grandchild to try different things, taking risks even though they might fail at it?  Or do you make sure that they are safely kept in a bubble and only do the things that you know they will succeed in?  If trying and experimenting is good enough for children, then it is good enough for Christ’s church as well.

This is what God did with the flood.  Sin entered His creation, messing the whole thing up.  So He decides to start over, begin anew.  Wipe the slate clean and start fresh.  Now people throughout the world will question if the flood actually happened.  And I say, if we get hung up on the details of the story and questioning if the flood could or could not of actually happened, then we have missed the point of the whole story.  What really matters is learning what God has done and what He is doing for us.  In the case of the flood, even though God chose to wipe the slate clean and start over, He promised that He would never flood the earth like that again.  After the flood, God realizes that there had to be a better way of redeeming His project from its imperfections.  After the flood, God makes many different attempts to save His creation, but to no avail.  Finally, He sends Jesus to take all of the world’s sins unto Himself in order to once and for all redeem creation from sin that entered in with Adam and Eve.

You are nowhere near perfect.  You will continue to fail and make mistakes.  But don’t let the fear of failing or the fear of making mistakes prevent you from taking a chance and going out on a limb.  Bishop Jon’s theme throughout his report at Synod Assembly was the last verse of Matthew’s Gospel, “I will be with you always.”  The rainbow is not only a promise for us that when the rains come God will never again flood all of creation, but the rainbow is also a promise for us that no matter how many times we screw up, fall, or need to start over on something, He promises us to be with us always; until He comes again in glory on the Last Day.  Are you measuring or cutting?  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

A Frightening Celebration

Readings for the day (Day of Pentecost – Sunday, June 4, 2017):

Acts 2:1-21

Psalm 104:24-34

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

John 20:19-23

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.  Of all the festivals the church has, there really are 3 primary festivals that are celebrated each year: the birth of our Savior at Christmas, the resurrection of our Savior at Easter, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

For us, church festivals usually mean a celebration.  We celebrate at Christmas.  We also celebrate at Easter.  It is even common practice for some churches to have cake and celebrate at Pentecost.  But on that first Pentecost, people were not excited, they were frightened.  This was not a celebratory time, for they were confused.  They were bewildered.  They were astonished.  This was not an exciting day because when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, He came as a violent, rushing wind.  This was not a calm, gentle breeze.  No, the Apostle Luke, the writer of Acts, describes the coming of the Holy Spirit as a violent, strong, forcible wind.  Certainly something that would get your attention and go, “Wow what just happened!”  Which explains all of the confusion among the crowd of people that gathered; even accusing the apostles of being drunk on new wine.  Today Pentecost is treated as a celebration, which it most certainly is a time to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles and to us.  But that first day of Pentecost was anything but celebratory.  It was frightening.

When we think of the gift of the Holy Spirit we often think of baptism or confirmation.  These are moments or milestones in life where we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit coming upon individuals leaving us with a good, warm your heart kind of feeling.  Leaving us with the impression that the Holy Spirit moves like a peaceful, gentle breeze.  Except there is a reason why I tell parents when they bring their new child to be baptized that the first thing we are going to do is kill your son or daughter.  Of course not in a literal sense, but certainly in a spiritual sense.  In order to be renewed in Christ, we must first put aside – killing or drowning our old sinful selves through the waters of baptism.  Then, and only then, is God able to pull us out of that water into new life, clothed with Christ; giving us the gift of His Holy Spirit.  For the coming of the Holy Spirit is neither peaceful nor gentle, but rather violent and confusing.

When thinking about the Holy Spirit, violent is usually not the first adjective you think of.  And certainly we believe that our God is peaceful, not violent.  So let me explain what I mean by violent.  Have you ever felt compelled to do something, but tirelessly worked to find excuses why not to act?  When I sensed that call to ministry, it was a rather clear call; but the call to be a pastor was rather painful.  For the longest time I was so convinced that my call to ministry was to be a youth director – and nothing more, certainly not a pastor!  So I did what I could to avoid it.  Ok, I’ll go to seminary, but only for a youth director.  Ok, I’ll get put on the roster but still not as a pastor.  But I have learned over the years that God doesn’t take no for an answer.  If He wants you to do someone, whether it is something for His Church, at your place of work, in the community, or at home, God will find a way to get what He wants.  The Holy Spirit tugs on us, and won’t give up until we do what God is calling us to do.  God doesn’t take no for an answer, and He won’t rest until He does – no matter how much force is necessary.  It took a while, but I finally gave in, realizing that it is much easier to just do what God calls you to do the first time.

Now the actions by the Holy Spirit don’t always make sense.  Many times it is hard to see the bigger picture, making it all very confusing and challenging to trust that there even is a bigger picture that God sees.  I have lost count on how many times I’ve told my kids, “Trust me, you’ll be fine.”  Or, “Trust me, the toy you’re looking for is in your room where you left it.”  It’s always easy to see the bigger picture for someone else isn’t it?  But when it comes to seeing your own, it doesn’t appear to be there.  Telling someone else to put their trust in the Holy Spirit is easy compared to practicing what you preach.  But it is in our best interest to put our trust in God, because when we don’t and we turn to our own selfish interests without giving any consideration to what God might be calling us to do; then our lack of trust leads us to despair.

So I said that the coming of the Holy Spirit, especially at baptism is neither peaceful nor gentle, but rather violent and confusing.  But I really should add one more adjective – astonishing.  Because it is rather amazing what God is able to do when we put our trust in Him.  Sometimes we even get to see what that bigger picture looks like.  Kind of like how the disciples never really understood what Jesus was talking about when He kept reminding the Twelve that He was going to die and rise again.  And yet, after the ascension of Jesus, Peter, the one who denies knowing our Lord and forbids our Lord from willingly dying, turns right around on that first day of Pentecost and begins telling the frightened, confused crowd the whole story how Jesus is the Savior of the world; dying and rising to new life.  Yeah, certainly something to celebrate!  The coming of the Holy Spirit to protect, guide, and lead.  Which is both confusing and astonishing.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

At the Center

Readings for the day (5th Sunday in Lent – Sunday, April 2, 2017):

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 130

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Throughout Lent this year, the majority of the Gospel readings have been from John’s Gospel.  The story of Nicodemus, a Pharisee who sneaks around in the middle of the night all because he is curious to find out who Jesus is and what He’s all about.  The story of the Samaritan woman at the well, a foreigner, an outcast who has been married multiple times and yet despite her social status is given the promise of new life and life giving water through Christ.  The story of the man born blind, an outcast whom Jesus heals on the Sabbath which upsets the Pharisees and Jewish leaders.  But until today’s story, Jesus has only been upsetting the Pharisees and pushing their buttons.  The raising of Lazarus though crosses the line, a line that they had been waiting for Jesus to cross for three years.  They wanted Him to go too far and He finally did it.

So it becomes no surprise that John places this story in the center of his Gospel account, with 10 chapters before and 10 chapters after.  This story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus is the climax of John’s Gospel because it is not only tips the scales for the Pharisees to arrest Jesus but this story also points directly to Christ’s own death and resurrection to come.  And nestled in the center of this story, which is also at the center of the whole Gospel, is Martha’s confession to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”  This is the main, central point of John’s whole Gospel.  If you get to the end of his Gospel account and you only take one thing away after reading it, he wants you to remember that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Plain and simple.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is the Messiah, God’s chosen, anointed One.

Now Martha makes that beautiful, wonderful confession, and just 12 verses later Jesus commands for the stone of Lazarus’ tomb to be rolled away.  Martha, remember the one who confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, says, “Lord, there is a stench; he’s been dead for 4 days already.”  Oh how quickly Martha forgets about her confession.  Oh how quickly we can forget about who has given us life, who has forgiven our sins, and who has promised us eternal life.  Especially when things are going well in our lives, it is so easy to forget that we even need God around.  And we end up trying to do everything ourselves without the help of our God who says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  Jesus wants us to trust Him, He knows what He is doing.  Martha thought He was crazy for wanting to roll back the stone of Lazarus’s tomb, especially four days after he is dead.  There would be a stench.  And yet, trusting Jesus, the crowd rolls away the stone.

And then Jesus cries out with a loud voice, certainly needs to be loud enough for a dead man to hear Him, and says, “Lazarus, come out!”  And to the amazement of the crowd, the dead man walks out under his own power, still bound by the burial clothes.  So Jesus, for a second time, commands the crowd to do something.  This time He calls to them to “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Notice here that Jesus is not the one that rolls away the stone.  Nor is He the one who unbinds Lazarus, but Jesus is the one who raises him from the dead.  Could the things you are worrying about in your life be equivalent to raising people from the dead?  Are they rather serious concerns?  If so, give those to God.  Notice again what the crowd does as compared to what Jesus does.  Jesus commands the crowd to roll away the stone and He commands them to unbind Lazarus and let him go.  The crowd is not the one who raises Lazarus from the dead, that’s God’s job.  And many times, the things that we concern ourselves with and worry about, fall under God’s job description, not ours.

So what is God calling you to roll away in order to make room for Him to breathe new life?  What is our congregation being called to unbind and let go of in order for new life to take hold?  Maybe you’re waiting for new life and Lazarus to come out of the tomb; except Lazarus can’t come out of the tomb until Jesus’ disciples answer the call and roll the stone away first.  And likewise, new life cannot flourish until we unbind some things.

For the Pharisees, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was the last straw.  It is after this miracle that crossed the line that the chief priests and Pharisees held a meeting where they asked the question, “What are we to do?  This man is performing many sings.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”  Now Caiaphas, the high priest said to them, “Don’t you understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”  Caiaphas thought that by killing Jesus (one man), the whole nation would be saved.  He was right, just not is a physical sense.  Instead by killing Jesus, the whole world was saved through Him.  Because Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, God’s chosen One, who is the Savior of the world; which is at the center and heart of not just John’s Gospel, but it is at the center and heart of everything that we say and do as a congregation and in our daily lives.  Jesus is the Son of God, the One who we believe in and confess to be our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

The Good Old Putter

 

Readings for the day (4th Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 26, 2017):

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Psalm 23

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Well it won’t be too long now before the snow is all gone, the grass green again, and the flags waving at the golf courses again.  So it’s time to dust off those clubs because spring is coming.

Today our Psalm should have been very familiar to most of you.  Psalm 23 is a very important passage in the Bible that is essential to our faith.  Psalm 23 is like that putter in your golf bag – it is essential to your golf game.  That is of course unless you are really good at golf and never need to use your putter.  But I don’t think any of us are that good.  For me I think my golf score would actually be better if I never had to putt.  My golf game isn’t good enough to eliminate the putter from my bag.

Psalm 23 is essential for daily life.  When things go south in life, not if, this Psalm becomes essential.  When we can’t seem to see what’s really going on, this Psalm is essential.

No matter how hard we try to avoid going through those dark valleys, because of the brokenness of this world, eventually we do go through some dark places.  Parents divorce, loved ones battle cancer, those close to you struggle with chemical dependency, infertility issues arise, friends let current issues breakup years of friendship, and way too many children and adults wrestle with mental illness.  Like I said, it’s not a matter of if you will see a dark valley in your life – it is a matter of when that dark valley will occur.  And just because you go through it once, doesn’t mean that it can’t happen again.

These parents who have this son who was blind since birth certainly had to have seen this dark valley – especially since at that time if there was anything wrong with you, you were considered unclean, an outcast.  Plus if you associated yourself, and specifically toughed an unclean person, you too were to be considered unclean, an outcast.  So these parents did what they needed to in order to help their son, but since at this time when Jesus heals him, he is of age, the parents are not willing to stand up for him or speak for him on his behalf.  They simply say twice, “He is of age, ask him.”  How awful of a valley to walk through all those years, knowing that when your son gets older, he will be considered an outcast in society.

So the Psalmist says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley…”  Not even a slightly dark valley, or a partially dark valley, but the darkest valley… “I fear no evil; for you are with me…”  I fear no evil, not because I read something on Google and the situation doesn’t sound all that bad.  Not because I can justify a friend’s erratic behavior.  And we certainly don’t fear evil because we somehow think that if we just ignore the problem/the dark valley that it will just go away.  No!  We fear no evil because our God, the God who is our Shepherd and Lord, who doesn’t make us lie down in a pile of manure, but he makes us lie down in green pastures; is also the one who promises to be with us always until the end of the age.  We fear no evil as we go through the dark valleys of this life because our God is with us every step of the way.

So if you, your parents, or someone close to you is having marital issues – God is with you in the midst of that heartache.  If you or a loved one is battling cancer – God is fighting alongside you or them.  If someone close to you is struggling with chemical dependency, whether it be drugs, alcohol, pain medication, or something else – God is with them.  If you or a friend is struggling with infertility issues – you are not alone, God still loves you and them, and if it is God’s will, a baby will come in God’s time.

My friends, the judgments need to end.  Maybe you are part of the problem, maybe you aren’t, but more people throughout the country keep leaving the church mostly because of the judgments that they are faced with when they enter the doors of the Lord’s house on account of the dark valley that they are going through.  Now certainly our God is one of judgment and promises that on the Last Day there will be a judgment period where He will be separating the sheep from the goats.  But that’s not our job, and I’m very grateful that this was not included in my job description.  Instead we tell of this hope that we have because we don’t meet and play around in the manure pile, but in the green pastures with still (not rough) waters.  God wants the best for his children, not the worst.

Even in the midst of our dark valleys, the Psalmist says, “You [God] prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  Our enemy is whatever dark valley we find ourselves walking through.  Maybe it is a mental illness or addiction.  Maybe it is cancer or some other illness.  Maybe it is marital or friendship issues.  No matter what the dark valley is, God sets the table anyway, anoints your head with oil, fills your cup until it is overflowing, and says, “I’m not going anywhere.”  In fact you shall dwell in the house of the Lord your whole life long.

We have lots of tools at our disposal, and there are many good passages in Scripture, but the minimal length and the richness of the imagery in Psalm 23 certainly makes these 6 verses your putter – an essential part of our daily lives as we put our trust in God alone to help get us through the dark valleys that we walk through.  The Lord is your shepherd and He will lead you in right path so that you may dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.