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.

Advertisements

The Best Kind of Love

Readings for the day (2nd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 12, 2017):

Genesis 12:1-4a

Psalm 121

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

 John 3:1-17

 

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

 

If you were to go on a road trip, how would you do it?  Would you carefully plan out your route with a detailed itinerary?  Or would you just jump in the car and drive off somewhere with no real idea on how you would get to your destination?  If you’re anything like me, you would want to have your route carefully mapped out, knowing where you’re going, how many miles you will drive, and roughly how long it would take to get there.  With knowing our path, we have a sense of control over where we go and how long it will take us to get there.

In life it’s nice to have a sense of control over our lives.  Some things in life we do have control over: we get to choose what we do, where we eat, who we associate with.  We are free to choose our career path, our friends, our spouse, where we live.  By getting a choice, we have a sense that with us in control we can see what is coming and thereby have the ability to maneuver through the changes of life as they happen.

But in reality we don’t have control over everything do we.  We can’t change other people.  We can’t control the markets.  We can’t control the weather.  We can’t control our family challenges.  We certainly can’t control the political polarization.  We can’t even control our own finitude.  With all of these things in our lives that we can’t control, we begin to lose heart.  We feel powerless and hopeless.  Any crisis or conflict in our own lives veils who we are and veils our vision; how we see the world.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a powerful Jewish leader, comes to visit Jesus in the darkness of the night.  He can’t visit during the day when the sun is out because he might be noticed seeking advice from this carpenter from Galilee.  Nicodemus would be seen as weak, as powerless, rather than strong and knowledgeable.  And yet, he is curious enough, weighing the risk, he takes a chance, stepping out, making himself vulnerable in order to find out more about who this Jesus fellow is.  Jesus tells him that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  This confuses Nicodemus as he thinks that Jesus is talking about having a second earthly birth.  Nicodemus’ vision is veiled.  He can’t understand how one is born from above.  He keeps trying to following a path and a vision that he is familiar with and knows.  Except all he knows is simple human biology which tells us that we cannot have two earthly births.  The path that we know and are familiar with is comforting, giving us a sense of control.

Of course we like having a sense of control in our lives, but when our vision is veiled, making it challenging to see clearly – how much control do we really have?  When life is going well, going the way we would like it to go, the family is mostly happy and our stress level is low-ish, then we get the sense that we are the ones in control of our lives.  Which is a comforting feeling to know that we have control.  But when crisis hits and the family isn’t happy, our stress levels are out of control, and we conflict seems to be surrounding us, then our vision becomes veiled, not being able to see past the crisis.  We become unable to see the bigger picture.

Nicodemus thought that he had things figured out, but then he started listening to Jesus’ teachings and just got more and more confused.  His stress level was probably increasing as conflict continued to grow among the Pharisees.  He could no longer see past the conflict.  Today is no different, actually it might be worse.  People are so quick to jump to their own conclusions without fully understanding what is going on or what the big picture is.  But when a perceived crisis comes to mind, our whole vision becomes veiled and we can’t get past the crisis.  And when we can’t get past the crisis with our vision veiled, we are left feeling confused and helpless.

You know, maybe that is what drove Nicodemus to sneak out one night to find Jesus in the first place and ask his burning questions, because he felt helpless and confused.  Now when Nicodemus does confront Jesus in the darkness, He could have just blown Nicodemus off.  He could have just said, “No, I’m not talking to you.  I’m not acknowledging you.  You’re a Pharisee and you guys are causing lots of problems for me.  So just go away.”  Jesus could have also tried to negotiate with Nicodemus a little, saying, “So, you’ve got some questions do you.  Well let me see here, I would like for you get the rest of the Pharisees off my back.”  The problem with negotiating though is that you put power back into someone else’s hand.  “I’ll love you if…”  A conditional form of love that puts the person you’re going to love in control.

Instead, Jesus answers all of Nicodemus’ questions (maybe not the way he was hoping for, but they were answered).  And most importantly, Jesus offers to Nicodemus unconditional love.  Love that gives him no control and makes him completely powerless, that the only thing Nicodemus can do is to accept this love knowing full well that with God loving the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life, completely removes him from the equation.  Nicodemus wasn’t looking to be saved on that night; he just wanted some questions answered.

When you think about it, you never asked God to send his Son to die for you.  You never even asked Jesus if He was willing to hang on the cross for you.  He just went and died for you without you asking for it.  This puts God in control and makes you powerless.  He never asked your opinion on the matter.  And for those who like being in control of what’s going on and where you’re headed, this can be a terrifying thing because this means that we must completely put our trust in someone who just makes decisions without consulting us.

And this is exactly what true unconditional love looks like.  God loving you and the whole world so much that he willingly gave up his only Son, being lifted up on a cross, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish in an eternal death, but may have eternal life with God.  Indeed, he did not send his Son into the world to condemn us for sins, but in order that we might be saved through him.

Our freedom of choice in this world appears to be where our freedom lies, but in all actuality our true freedom lies in this unconditional love where without your consent, Jesus willingly died and rose for you, claimed you through the waters of baptism so that Jesus who is the light of the world could shine light on your path, removing the veil, allowing you to see clearly.

We don’t always know what lies ahead for us, but with Jesus in control we can trust that He can see where we are going, with the all-powerful by our side.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.

Hot or Lukewarm?

Readings for the day (Ash Wednesday – Wednesday, March 1, 2017:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 103:8-14

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

 

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

 

What makes waking up in the morning so great (request responses)?  Yes all of those are wonderful reasons for waking up in the morning, but what about the whole room being filled with the wonderful smell of coffee brewing?  And then to sit, holding that warm cup of coffee in your hand as you take those first couple sips of that delicious hot beverage.  For all of you coffee drinkers out there you know exactly what I’m talking about.  For those of you who don’t drink coffee, now you know what you are missing.

Drinking any hot beverage for that matter has a way of energizing us for the day.  The caffeine might play a part in that, but I think there’s something about sipping on a hot beverage in the morning to warm you up.  Kind of like having to warm your car up in the morning.  Things just run better after being warmed up.

After a while though, I get distracted by other things, but then I go grab my mug, which seems to have gotten a little lighter, I take a sip of the beverage…YUCK!  That delicious, savory beverage that I was enjoying is now disgusting.  It’s become lukewarm!  Coffee, tea, vegetables, pizza, bath water – none of these are enjoyable when they are lukewarm.  We desire them to be hot.  In fact that’s how they were meant to be enjoyed – hot.

Now our beverages and food are not the only things that get lukewarm.  Over time we can become lukewarm in our relationships with our spouse, with our children, with our friends.  Oh it starts out as the usual excuse, we’re really busy, and it’s so hard to find time to get together.  And then that makes way for fewer conversations.  We become relaxed, comfortable with how things are, but unfortunately when we become complacent and content, we have become lukewarm.  Not hot, energized, and excited, but relaxed and content which this leads to our relationships breaking down.  And what is lukewarm eventually becomes cold.

We become lukewarm in our daily activities too.  When we just don’t care as much about our work, not putting forth a good effort.  Or in school when we don’t put in as much effort into our studies as we could.  And even in our extra-curricular activities and hobbies.  When we don’t put in a very good effort, that’s a good sign that we have become lukewarm.

This same thing is true in our spiritual lives.  When we are energized, when we are excited about our walk with God, we are on fire.  We’re praying, taking time for devotions, putting our trust in God to guide and lead through the Holy Spirit, we joyfully come worshiping our God who formed us in His image, we cheerfully give of our time, our talents, and our treasures to God all for the purpose of growing His kingdom.  But when we sit ideal for a while, like the coffee cup on my desk that I forgot about, we become lukewarm.  And that’s when prayer and devotions get skipped, we start putting our trust in ourselves and our checking account, attending worship becomes a chore, and giving becomes another bill to pay.  Just like with our relationships with each other and our daily activities, what is lukewarm eventually becomes cold, including our relationship with God.

But you know what’s wonderful about lukewarm coffee?  You can add more hot coffee to the cup to warm it back up, and it doesn’t take a lot of hot coffee to do that.  The same is true in our spiritual lives, in our relationships, and in our daily lives.  Today begins the season of Lent, 40 days where we focus on who we are as sinners and God’s call for us to repent, setting aside those things that hinder us, making us lukewarm, and turning back to God, warming ourselves back up.  So in the next 40 days, what is something that you would like to work on, maybe it is a relationship, maybe it is spending more time in prayer or studying your Bible, maybe it is living more by faith, trusting that God will be with you, maybe it is opening yourself up more to helping grow God’s kingdom through your own time, talents and treasures.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He tells His disciples that to avoid being lukewarm, good spiritual practices include prayer, fasting, and giving.  Let’s spend the next 40 days warming ourselves up.  Because as Paul tells the Corinthians we do not want to accept the grace of God in vain.  Meaning we should not become relaxed and comfortable all because we know that God has already saved us through the waters of baptism.  Just because you have been claimed by God, welcomed into His family, and given the promise of eternal life and forgiveness of all your sins, does not mean that God enjoys you as lukewarm coffee.  He desires that you take this life that He has graciously given to you and share this Good News of God’s saving grace with others.  And we do so, as Paul did, by being patient, kind, offering genuine love, being truthful in what we say, and above all, trusting in the power of God.

You all are Christ’s ambassadors, whether you’re 12 or 50 or 90.  And as Christ’s ambassador you are a representative of not only your respective congregation, but your two sister congregations as well.  You represent Circle of Faith Parish.  You represent the Body of Christ.  You represent Christ himself.  You are His ambassador, called to bring you’re A-game, not your lukewarm coffee.

Paul says that now is the acceptable time…now is the day of salvation.  There is no greater time than these 40 days of Lent to turn away from our lukewarm tendencies.  For there will come a day when God will no longer desire confession or repentance on account of our sins.  For at that acceptable time, when the words that we heard earlier will come true (Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return), then we will enjoy the abundant blessings from God beyond any can ever imagine.  That is when you, the ambassador, will be called home, the work will be completed and there will be rest for His faithful servants.

Until that day, let’s warm our coffees up, and bring our A-game.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.