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Monday, April 14, 2014, 7:26 PM
Several Sundays ago, we had a last minute emergency regarding a guest minister and I was asked to preach if the guest was unable to make it. I agreed, and began to think about what I would say to the congregation.
I meditated on what is the most important reminder the church universal needs regarding who we are and why we are here.
I was led to this passage from 2 Timothy 1:12:
“…I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
Here are the words of a man about to face execution, a man who has been abandoned by his associates and betrayed by those who thought he could rely upon. This man, Paul the apostle, is facing death because of his testimony for and about Jesus Christ.
Paul, a man who was widely regarded as a powerhouse intellectual in his day and time, had been cajoled and laughed at for believing in fairy tales and false truths as he traveled, taught, and preached the gospel. Still, Paul says he is not ashamed because of one fact:
“I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
What does this mean?
First, it means that for Paul, Jesus was not a concept, or an idea. Jesus was a person Paul knew, loved, trusted, communed with, was led by, and looked forward to seeing in eternity. Paul says he knew this One In Whom He Believed. How often have you been ashamed of someone you have known, loved, trusted, and found friendship in?
Second, Paul says he knew Jesus was able to guard what Paul entrusted to Jesus. This means Paul knew his earthly life and eternal self were secure because Paul trusted Jesus completely. Why so much trust in the unseen? Paul believed in Jesus because Jesus had kept Paul safe in his earthly life.
How much safety did Paul need? Paul faced stoning, beatings, legal troubles, jailing, nasty church politics, loneliness, constant travels under rough conditions, a mysterious physical ailment, religious controversies, and outright hostile opposition to his message and to his life. At the end of his life, Paul could look back and reflect upon how Jesus had kept him secure and on message through all of these experiences.
Third, Paul says he’s entrusted himself to Jesus “for that day.” “That day” or “in that day” is a phrase that appears throughout the Old and New Testaments, referring to that final re-arranging of reality, the final judgment, or the complete restoration of God’s original plan for humanity.
What Paul is saying here is that he sees himself as an eternal spiritual being that will live somewhere forever. He can’t anticipate everything about that future life, but Paul says that all he’s ever been is safe in Jesus’ care, and even after Paul’s physical body is destroyed, his life will be kept and restored fully in God’s will and on God’s schedule.
I didn’t need to preach this sermon that morning. The guest preacher arrived just in time.
I think Paul’s farewell message is one we can never hear too often: have no shame or silence regarding the greatest gift to humanity---God’s salvation from our failing selves and our failing world. Reflect upon what God has done for you through your fellowship with Jesus Christ. Finally, be the person who is not afraid to share who you are and what you know to be true. Every day, some event or person will challenge you to say or show who you are and why you are here. The answer should always begin with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans
Saturday, April 5, 2014, 12:09 PM
More insights from my Lenten reading, this one from pages 44 and 45 of Joan Chittister's Wisdom Distilled From The Daily.
"So, even liking one another is not enough. The truth about Christian community is that we have to be committed to the same eternal things together. What we want to live for and how we intend to live out those values are the central questions of community. Without that understanding, communities fail and marriages dissolve and people leave religious life and nations go to war."
"Another function of community is to enable us to be about something greater than ourselves. It is no small task in a world that tells us" (especially in North America--my words) "constantly that we ourselves are enough to be concerned about and that everything else will take care of itself. Well, that kind of enlightened altruism has not saved us from the destruction of the ozone layer, or the deterioration of the centers of our cities, or massive unemployment even among educated upper-middle class executives, or wars against the innocent."
God, help me to be in and about and for community. Now and always.
Monday, March 17, 2014, 3:03 PM
" [This is] the revelation of Jesus Christ [His unveiling of the divine mysteries]. God gave it to Him to disclose and make known to His bond servants certain things which must shortly and speedily come to pass in their entirety. And He sent and communicated it through His angel (messenger) to His bond servant John,
2 Who has testified to and vouched for all that he saw [in his visions], the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." --Revelation 1:1. The Amplified Bible
While growing up (I'm a PK), I asked my father if he would ever preach a sermon on the following topic: where is Jesus right now, and what is He doing? He did later (years later) preach a sermon on a topic that begins to answer the question. He preached from the Book of Revelation and described the challenges for the church at Sardis, an ancient city near modern day Turkey.
During this season of Lent, I've been reading and re-reading (silently and aloud) the Book of Revelation. It is in this book that the answer to my childhood question is found. This is a powerful book, with a unique, personal message to each person who cares enough to read it and meditate on it.
The first three chapters of the book describe Jesus' messages of encouragement and correction for several ancient churches. More importantly, we see Jesus as He is now. He holds a place of honor in the Eternal Presence. He is guiding, protecting, encouraging, and correcting His churches. His words given thousands of years ago still have meaning because, for better or worse, human nature hasn't changed much in 2,000 years.
Jesus expresses to each church (and by extension, each believer) that He knows their true situation. Whether it is poverty, arrogance, fear, boldness, steadfast determination, or failure. He is not watching us at a distance through a telescope. He is ever present, and knows exactly what we are dealing with. We never have to begin our prayers with "Lord, look at what these people are doing!" He's right there; He knows.
He tells believers what must be done in order for them to move forward. He is in total control of the circumstances of human life. He is, as John says in the first chapter, The Ruler of The Kings on Earth.
Jesus has a word of compliment and a word of correction for most of these churches---and again, by extension, for each of us. He expresses empathy, explaining in detail how much He understands of their condition. He stands against the heresy that misleads innocent seekers and weak believers. He explains the rewards awaiting those who stick with Him until the end. He warns those who refuse to accept correction, who live by the motto "Do You." He encourages those who are struggling under tough circumstances. Most of all, He promises a clear and valuable, eternal reward for those who worship and love Him.
Revelation may seem an odd book to dive into during Lent, when so many of our lessons and sermons are taught and preached from the Gospels. Still, after the gospels come the teachings and after the teachings come The Revelation of the One We Are Following. He never left us, not really. He walks among His church and His believers. He doesn't always promise escape from pain, but He always promises His presence. He promises that, at the right time, He will wipe away every tear. The end of the story is a glorious one, in which pain and loss will be removed, destroyed, and forgotten---eternally replaced with joy, completion, reunion, and reward.
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans
Monday, February 10, 2014, 1:57 PM
“Now Lord, don’t move my mountain
But give me the strength to climb.
And Lord, don’t take away my stumbling block,
But lead me all around.”
Mahalia Jackson, a gospel music great, as was Inez Andrews, made this song famous. Others have performed it over the years with soul, energy, and conviction. It sounds powerful, convicting, and inspiring. It has the essence of determination and commitment in the words.
This song makes you a believer in getting up and trying one more time.
As much as I love this song (and have enjoyed listening to it over the years), I stumbled a bit when I considered what Jesus said about mountains and how to handle them.
At Matthew 17:20, Jesus answers his disciples when they questioned why they were unable to drive out a demon and heal a sick boy. Here’s what Jesus said:
“…because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed
, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
When was the last time you heard a sermon on this?
Jesus is not speaking to super-developed saints here. He tells the disciples they couldn’t heal because of their lack of faith. Please note: the failure to heal had nothing to do with the faith of the person requesting the healing. Remember this the next time a televangelist asks someone in the audience if that someone has enough faith to be healed.
What Jesus says here is that we are not to ask him to move the mountain and we are not to ask him to give us strength to climb. We are supposed to speak to the mountain, telling it to move, and it shall move.
When was the last time you or I did that?
When was the last time I spoke to the mountains of fear, procrastination, bitterness, or stagnation and told them to move? When was the last time you or I spoke to any mountain, telling it to move? Did these mountains move? Did we really want them to move? Have we started to like some of these mountains?
Did that mountain move the first time I told it to move, or did I have to tell it to move more than once?
Keep in mind: speaking to the mountain is not the same as speaking about the mountain.
Is it too much to accept Jesus’ words when He says “Nothing shall be impossible for you?”
You might tell yourself, “Oh, Jesus was just speaking to His disciples who lived with Him. That’s not for today.” Isn’t that a nice way of freeing yourself from responsibility for speaking to your mountains?
Do you and I love struggle more than we love faith and mountain moving? You don't need great faith to move a mountain, according to Jesus. Mustard seeds are tiny!
Are we afraid to go to the next level because we don’t know anyone who has? Are we afraid to view the world as a place where we can move mountains? When Jesus tells us “Nothing shall be impossible for you”, does a little voice in your mind say, “That can’t be right”? Where would that little voice come from?
Do we really know what it means to be Christian, as in Christ-like, or Christ-ian? Whose directions are we following?
Jesus didn’t say our power would move the mountain, but He did say we must speak to the mountain.
“ I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans
Wednesday, January 29, 2014, 3:25 PM
Often, we are told, in the name of being obedient or “good”, to forgive and forget. What does this really mean, and is it possible to truly forgive and forget?
I suppose that depends upon what you are forgiving and forgetting. If you are forgiving and forgetting someone cutting you off in traffic, or taking the parking place you were going for in a busy lot, maybe you can forgive and forget that.
What happens when we consider something on a larger scale?
You or a family member or close friend becomes the victim of a violent crime.
A doctor misdiagnoses you, and now you face a deeply rooted serious illness.
Your spouse abandons you without reason, and your personal and financial life is devastated.
You are unfairly fired from the job you badly needed.
You are the victim of domestic abuse, or, more accurately, home violence. You leave your home one day with only what you can carry.
Yes, I believe you can work on forgiving the person or persons responsible for these things. But forgetting these things? No, I don’t think so.
When events are major markers in our lives, we don’t really forget them unless something happens to damage our memories or thinking processes.
Just as we don’t forget the high points of life ( graduating from school, a first job, a wedding day, a child’s birth, a grandchild’s birth, that first apartment or house, etc.), we don’t forget the deep injuries because these events shape our lives and often permanently change life’s direction.
Forgiveness does free us, and keeps a single event from destroying other good things life could offer. What about the forgetting?
Well, you might not be able to forget the event, but you can choose to forget how it made you feel. You can forget the sense of being less than, the sense of being unappreciated, the sense of being forgotten and disrespected, the sense of being unwanted and uncared for, the sense of being less valuable than others seem to be.
You can remind yourself on a daily basis: what someone else did is not the defining moment of my life, unless I allow it.
And actually, why should you forget? Someday, you may be able to help someone else by saying: “Yes, it’s possible to overcome _______. I know, because I’ve been there and I’ve done it Let me help you on that path.”
In the back of my mind, there’s also my little suspicion that people who say we should forgive and forget sometimes just want to set us up to be hurt over and over again by someone who doesn’t care about us and doesn’t deserve the right to injure us without limit.
Forgive because forgiving is one of the most healing gifts you can give yourself. You have to do it on purpose and no one can do it for you. You put your own life back on course when you forgive. It’s a reclaiming of your power. Without forgiveness, the injury-maker reshapes your entire life and you shouldn’t give them that right.
In the back of your mind, you know the person who injured you really can’t heal you, so if you want to be healed, why keep your energy pointed in their direction? Get help if you need it, but release the injury-maker and take your life back.
Forget the pain and remember the victory. Grow stronger, share, help others, and widen the circle of your life. That’s true winning.
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans