Pastor's Blog

April 2016

Peace to Make You Whole Again

Peace is a precious commodity. Why do I say that? Because so much takes our peace away:

  • Waiting for the test results to come back
  • Facing mom or dad or the boss when I’ve done something stupid
  • Speaking in front of people
  • Wondering what people think of me and if my friends are really my friends
  • Getting dumped by my boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Having to dump my boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Having a crush on someone that we know we have no chance with
  • Trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life
  • Trying to figure out how to make my hair do whatever it’s supposed to do
  • Facing coach after a bad game
  • Dealing with thoughts that I know are wrong but I can’t seem to get rid of them
  • Trying to please God, but I keep screwing it up

Peace is precious, because sin is so prevalent. Peace is precious because so much takes it away. Peace is precious because in this world of sin and the resulting guilt and shame, peace is so very, very scarce.

So the world comes along with a peace of its own kind. This is the peace that says the only way to get peace is to do what makes you feel better. So what do we get as a result: overeating, self-harm, addiction, we go into financial debt, we overmedicate. Why are so many people getting smacked out on pain killers and heroine? One very likely reason is this: it dulls the pain.

Is what the world offers you a solution? Does the world offer you peace?

The Hebrews have a really neat word for “peace.” It’s “shalom”. It’s a very popular word. If you go to Jerusalem today you would probably hear shalom said a lot. In fact, it’s often used like a greeting, “Shalom.” “Peace, man.” But shalom isn’t just peace like “take it easy, bro.” Shalom is putting the last piece into the puzzle. Shalom is being made whole again. Shalom is being complete—a wish for everything to be right and sound within you and in your life. Shalom is the soul put back together.

“I do not give to you as the world gives,” Jesus says. What does the world give? The world gives nothing. It only takes. Its solutions take away from you, they steal from you. They steal your innocence. They steal your confidence. They steal your purity. They steal your happiness. They steal your life. They steal your soul. The world’s peace, whatever it is, comes at the terrible price of your soul. It’s why there are thousands of people looking for peace. It’s why people go from one thing to the next only to be disappointed, only to be let down, only to find their soul harmed. The world doesn’t give peace. The world takes it away.

“I do not give to you as the world gives,” Jesus says. Jesus doesn’t steal. Jesus doesn’t harm. Jesus gives peace. Shalom. Jesus takes the wreckage of my soul and your soul and he binds it all up in his love. His love which he poured out to us on the cross. His love which he shares with us whenever we eat his body and drink his blood. His love which pays for the guilt, takes the shame away. And puts us back together again.

And there’s only one source for this peace: his word. Jesus is our teacher. We are his students. He gives us this word to teach us about his great love, so that we would have a peace so great, so deep, so precious, that this world would never take it away.

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The Great Tribulation

You would never have planned it this way, but there he was. You happened to be strolling through the park one evening when you saw him, kneeling in intense prayer a little ways off. There was something striking about this man that drew you closer and as you watched his lips move you wondered what could be weighing on this man’s heart. You could see the beads of sweat forming around his forehead and dropping to the ground. What was going through his mind? What was he struggling with that he came to the Lord with such fervent prayers?

It wasn’t until several days later, when Jerusalem was abuzz with excitement about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that you realized you had the honor of witnessing the prayers of Jesus hours before he was put to death.

We owe a debt of thanks to the writers of the gospels because through them we were with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and we know exactly what was going through his mind when he fell to the ground, crushed by the burden of what he was about to do. We know how he opened his mouth to plead before his Father that the cup of wrath he was about the drink would be taken away from him. We know how he suffered! We know the great tribulation our Good Shepherd passed through to earn us forgiveness.

Christ was no stranger to tribulation, and neither are we. We may not carry the weight of God’s punishment against sin on our shoulders, but we encounter our own things that press us down, that squeeze us until we wonder if we can take it anymore. The question is: how are we going to handle it? Where does our courage come from? Well it doesn’t come from inside of us. It comes from a tomb which does not contain a dead Jesus but is a living witness to the reality of what Jesus did. We can overcome those things that press and squeeze and crush by trusting in our Good Shepherd.

We are crushed…but never destroyed. It’s important to know that our tribulations, our sins, our denials, do not change our status. The Good Shepherd came to save sinners. The Good Shepherd came to dip our souls in his blood and make them clean. The Good Shepherd came so that we could repent of our sins. The Good Shepherd has saved you, so your sins are forgiven. You wear the white robe of Christ’s perfect life.

Each of you probably looks up to a person whom you view as a strong Christian. And what are they doing to stay strong? Chances are they have a found a way to have God’s Word frequently in their life. They confess their sins regularly to God and they make their way to the Lord’s Supper frequently. They take time for fervent and frequent prayer.

The more we dip into God’s Word, the more we whiten our robes in the blood of the Good Shepherd for the strength to endure. And the great tribulation is overcome by our great Good Shepherd.

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Christ Changes our Direction

I have a friend who not too long ago was messed up in substance abuse problems. I didn’t know him really well at the time, but since then he has become a good friend. He really didn’t know how bad things were getting and his life was beginning to unravel quickly. Until one day he was struck by a car. His injuries were quite substantial and it took him a long time to recover. While he lay on that hospital bed though, he had a good chance to review the events of his life that led up to where he was. He knew the poor choices he had made and more importantly he saw how weak his faith had become. We like to say that sometimes God has to lay people on their backs before they’ll look up to him. In his case that’s exactly what happened. After he recovered from his injuries, the change that took place in his life was remarkable. It was a change in direction that could only happen through the power of Christ’s resurrection.

Sometimes we need that, too. In fact, we need that every day. Think about how upset we get over things in this life: bills, our jobs, our families, our friends, our faith. We get wrapped up in all the details, we think we have to control everything. We want to be in control and something goes wrong, something unexpected happens and then we lose hope. "I thought I had it all figured out, everything was going so smoothly…" Our perspective is often a very selfish one. We want things to go our way. “Jesus I thought you were going to…” “But Jesus I prayed that…” And it doesn’t happen how we want it to, and we start walking our own sad road, our faces downcast, wondering if Jesus is really all he’s cracked up to be.

So Jesus intervenes. He rose, and his resurrection changes our perspective. Think about all the promises God has made in the Old Testament. God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to raise up a Messiah. God promised King David to put one of his heirs on the throne eternally. God showed the Israelites how blood would be shed for the forgiveness of sins day-after-day in the Temple. All of these are for us, too. They aren’t just casual things to know in Bible class. Each one of these is a checklist of God’s promises that are fulfilled by the resurrection. Each one is another way of God saying to you and me, “See my plan worked. I do love you, I do care for you, I do forgive you.” Christ changes our direction by changing our perspective from our own earthly selfish one, to a new spiritual perspective. We see how God has kept his promises, we see how our sins have been forgiven, we see how God has given us the gift of eternal life. The resurrection proves this is true.

Think about how sad we would be without the resurrection. We wouldn’t know where to go. But when Christ turns our sadness into joy, we turn right around and in joy-filled faith, follow Christ. 

These aren’t empty emotions we’re talking about here. These aren’t the kinds of emotions that fly away when the song has ended or the movie is over. These are the kind of emotions that come from the truths of God’s Word. This is the joy that is true no matter how happy or sad I feel. If I am sad, then my joy is found in Christ’s resurrection and that gives me hope. If I am happy, then my joy is made complete in Christ’s resurrection and I look forward to my own resurrection with even more joy. These are the emotions that are stirred when we see the empty tomb. It's the change in attitude that only Christ can bring about.

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There is Hope in the Stars

Today's horoscope:

"Don't bother with it, these things are just made up!"

And yet so many people read them and believe them. Why? Because they're looking for some advantage in their life, some way to get rid of the doubt that creeps into life.

But the stars do hold out hope that we don't have to worry about the future. To explain, you have to go back several thousand years to the days of Abraham. Abraham had been promised by God that he would have a child. But Abraham was getting along in years, and still no child. He was starting to doubt that this was going to happen. So God showed him the stars and said, "Try to count them. So shall your offspring be." The message was he would indeed have a family, and one that was so big he could hardly count it.

The next part of the story is arguably the most important part: Abraham believed the LORD and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Above everythign else, God wants us to believe in him. But you know that you don't win anyone over to your point of view by harassing them. You can only share your message and try to win them over. That's what God was doing with Abraham. He was holding out his promises to him, and in spite of Abraham's doubts, God won him over, and Abraham was considered righteous by God--perfect.

God's promises deliever God's blessings. That's why he holds them out to us this Easter season (and always!). God promises forgiveness to us because Jesus rose from the dead. God promises peace with him and peace in our hearts from guilt and shame and remorse and anxiety because he has taken away our sin and given us a new life. Those promises he holds out to us today so that we would believe him and by believing him would be considered righteous.

Just like Abraham looked at the stars and was reminded of God's great love for him, you and I look at the promises that God has laid out for us in his word and we find that same love. God wins us over with his promsies, and we are saved from sin.

So keep looking at the stars. Not the worhtless ones in the horoscope, but the "stars" of God's promises.

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For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ ROMANS 6:23