From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED!
Announcing Worship Services at the Discovery Site on Sweeney Ridge at 6:47 a.m. Master bagpiper David Vasheresse will lead our united group up to the summit at the Discovery Site.
Resurrection Day Holy Communion at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in the Linda Mar District of Pacifica, California, at 11:00 a.m. All regulations and stipulations of the Pandemic Committee will be observed in both worship opportunities, including masks, social distancing, no singing, no touching, as well as all common sense measures.
"...they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day on the third day and caused Him to be seen..." Acts 10:39b-40
"...at this, she [Mary Magdalene] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn't realize that it was Jesus..." John 20:1-18
Prayer for this Easter Sunday of 2021
On this jubilant Easter Sunday morning, we want to give you hearty praise and thanks for your manifold blessings of every kind --- human companions and fellowship, nourishing food, healing of heart, soul, mind and body, warm clothing, all the necessities provided, all the opportunities to be healthy, comforted and wise.
We pray for our troops overseas. We pray for those who have lost loved ones in the pandemic, and those who have the virus. We pray for our nation. We pray for our economy. We ask that America might be a beacon of light to a dark world. Foremost, today, though, we thank you for the gift of faith. Help us today to fully appreciate the sacrifice of Christ Jesus and understand anew the power of His resurrection. We pray in His holy name.
Greetings to you and yours as together we rejoice greatly at "just the thought" of Easter, and traditionally, how this great festival in the church year has brought such happiness to individuals and families. People love to be in the church sanctuary on this day. People love to hear the magnificent Easter hymns and the Bible lessons for this day. They find real encouragement to make their lives, and as well, their struggles seem like nothing compared to the hope they have in the Resurrected Christ Jesus...stepping out of their way to choose Easter morning worship...and, I guess, for many, back to their normal ways...church involvement really not a significant part of their lives.
In this regard I'm not talking about the regular worshippers, but, on the other hand, those who come but once a year, or maybe two times, including, yes, you guessed it, Christmas. They are many...they range in the millions. I am grateful for the denominational fellowships that try sincerely to make church and faith an integral part of their lives... to make Jesus of Nazareth their personal Lord and Savior.
It brings to mind my particular focus recurrently about the difference between "religion" and "faith". As many of you know, I think of the two as being...like the difference in a railway station, between standing on the platform religion and getting on the train faith...
The platform is the railway station...the train is the Gospel Train and the engineer is the Lord Jesus Christ. The fuel for the train is the Holy Spirit.
I keep thinking about my father-in-law, eventually, the Rev. Francis Najmuddin, who said at one time, that Islam was good preparation for the "real thing", a personal relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. He stood on the platform religion and in the process memorized the "Koran Sharif". When he had an opportunity to read the New Testament, he knew in his heart that Jesus was the Son of God...He got on the train faith...and that cost him great deal...in addition to the fact that he was hunted down by his family for decades.
How much are you willing to pay for your spiritual well-being?
What are you sure of?
Are you still standing on the platform religion after all these years, or is it true you know---you have, indeed, gotten onto the Gospel train.
Is Jesus your engineer?
How much are you willing to go to move from your platform religion to the Gospel train faith? Do you know what it takes to do so? Some folks have thought for "time immemorial" that religion and faith were the same thing. Identical. In some ways they are exact opposites.
Why is it I like this verse better than the definition in the "Micah" passage? Because it says nothing about what I am supposed to be or do. There is no stipulation regarding requirements. The "Hebrews" passage has to do with unconditional assurance and certainty in my commitment to trust in God's plan for my life, rather than proving to God I'm good enough to deserve His favor. Faith is about trusting God alone! Religion requires mindset and behavior that will prove that I am good enough for God.
Personally, I love the Micah verse...I printed this verse on my calling card... my point here is that---it is "standing on the platform" in reverse...it's what you do and live once you have the "faith" principle in your heart...to do these good and perfect things without having the assurance of faith, at least Paul seems to think, is worthless...without profit for the informed Godly person. I want to introduce you to one "bottom-line" of getting on the Gospel train.
This is Easter Sunday. Even on Easter Sunday, it's never too late to introduce the Gospel Train to people who don't go to church, and also people who attend every Sunday...[a bold and dangerous thing to suggest]...but I'm going to do it...
How do we get off the platform religion and get on the Gospel train faith?
One key chapter of the Bible that is truly a "dividing line" between those who have finally---understood---and received---the inner-knowledge of faith and those who, without discerning, continue to stand on the platform.
Saint Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians...the fifteenth chapter...
If you don't pass this test...you're still on the platform...
Doing good things, having a solid ethical base to your faith life, is impressive. I think it's excellent...but, according to the Bible, according to Saint Paul...if that's all that Spirituality is "about" for you, you are doomed, and if you are right in this regard...we all are doomed...and left out in the cold and darkness.
You believe correctly that Jesus died on the cross of Calvary for your sins. You're totally in accord with what the Bible teaches. But, Sister, but Brother... if you struggle and doubt that Jesus was raised again on the third day, this whole business of spirituality for you is in vain. You might as well quit church, and leave Bible study, and good behavior, and do what you please...
They talk about what Jesus said regarding being "born anew". Yes, these things Jesus mentioned are true, but not at the cost of suggesting that "second chances in life" are the issue here. People in the church hide the fact that they do not believe...
The issue at hand in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is the bold affirmation of faith that...Jesus not only died on the cross, but He also was raised from the dead after being really dead for three whole days by the power of the Father.
Historically the situation in Saint Paul's appeal to the church people in Corinth was this. Christians accepted almost all aspects of the message Paul delivered. The exception in this regard was the issue for them of the Resurrection.
This became a "stumbling block" for them, because of the place of "philosophical reason" in their Greek lives. This needed to be addressed. And today in America, with our unschooled philosophic tradition of reason, for those educated in formal philosophy, and those not educated in philosophy, Saint Paul's challenge in the 15th chapter remains. In short, preachers of the Gospel must address the issue. Millions hide their disbelief to their peril.
Saint Paul goes on, "...if only for our present life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all human beings...but Christ has, indeed, been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep... for since death came through a man Adam, the resurrection of the dead comes through a man Jesus...for as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive..." 1 Corinthians 15:20-22
The euphoria of Easter is rising up within me. Please note. Dear friend, you are not the first Christian to doubt the Resurrection and rationalize your belief. Remember our dear friend, Doubting Thomas. Let the Lord know your shortcoming. Ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit to fill that empty space. This is and was not only an issue for the Corinthians... the issue is there for us and with us today...among laymen and clergy. The situation is...this is a bottom-line issue of the faith...let's address it this year on Easter Sunday, 2021. It will take a special touch of the Spirit.
HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED!
Most cordially, Tom
Significant Scriptures for Palm Sunday
"...because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced... Therefore have I set my face like flint...and I know I will not be put to shame..." Isaiah 50:7
"...let your face shine on your servant...save me in your unfailing love..." Psalm 31:16
"......the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord...only if his prediction is true...then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it, and he said, before all the people, 'This is what the Lord says: 'In the same way will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon off the neck of all the nations within two years.' At this, the prophet Jeremiah went on his way..." Jeremiah 28:9-11
"...'Are you king of the Jews?' asked Pilate...'Yes, it is as you say', Jesus replied...the chief priests accused Him of many things... So again Pilate asked Him, 'Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of'...but Jesus still made no reply...and Pilate was amazed..." Mark 15:2-5
It was 1988. I'd been the pastor at Holy Cross for five years already, and, in fact, had been recently contacted by an insistent Scottish Presbyterian minister named the Rev. Dr. Harry Washburn to take over a chaplaincy ministry with the San Mateo County Convalescent Ministry, now called, SpiritCare Ministry for Seniors. I told him it was enough to be called his friend. Eventually I would do so in 1999.
I heard of a dramatic Easter musical. After a number of conversations with my Christian jazz buddy, Gordon Hultberg, known by many as "The Killer", together we decided to present the idea of the Holy Cross congregation putting on a major contemporary musical for the Pacifica community.
Holy Cross had always been a lively church body before my arrival, and it continued to be so, after Priscilla and I came. Our church council and the members got excited about the idea of having such a musical for Easter, and so off we went, headlong, into the project. Due to Gordon's directorship things went along smoothly. Gordon not only directed the play, but also took on the musical portion. Since every single member in the congregation had some function or "part" to perform, the question came up along the way... "Hey, who's going to come to see the musical---we're all in the production?" The response of all involved was, of course, "...the Lord will find a way..."
One of the production volunteers on lighting was a high school student, who was not a believer, named Erik Rasmussen, a student at Terra Nova High. I'm sure Gordon invited him to participate because he was accomplished in his art, but also, because Gordon has always had a delightful evangelical heart, and probably thought, God would do a work in Erik's life.
That happened, but let me tell you about it...
Erik did a great job for us. I thought, it was good for him to be with us, and good for us to have him help us, but I was certainly unsure about what kind of effect spiritually the message of the musical would have on him. I figured we were fortunate to have him on hand to help out.
One evening, after all the actor-members and production staff had left, I was cleaning up in the sanctuary at the altar. I'd thought that everybody else had already left for home or La Playa. I turned toward the exit and noticed Erik sitting in the back portion of a darkened sanctuary, in Merle Eggen's usual seat...
I was about to ask him what he was doing there, since it was past dinner time, and I knew he loved to eat, but I didn't have time to pose the question...
"Why didn't He say something? Why didn't Jesus say something to defend himself?" Erik asked. I was astounded at his question --- I was dumbfounded. His voice sounded perplexed and absolutely serious. For a split-second, inside of myself, I asked, "Who is this 'Erik Rasmussen' that I thought I'd 'sized-up' appropriately?"
Erik remained seated. I stood before him in the aisle. We talked. I cannot [for the life of me] remember what I answered, or if I didn't try to answer. I did ask my usual question, whether in conversation or counseling, "What do you make of it?"
It made no sense to him. Why didn't Jesus attempt to defend himself?
Incidentally, Erik continued to grow in his walk with the Lord. He was baptized and continued to grow spiritually and intellectually. There were setbacks along the way, but the Lord was with him. God gave him a wonderful wife and a fabulous family. He now lives in Australia and will probably read this message. Erik eventually went into Christian ministry as an ordained pastor, and then, after several years, went on to become a lawyer. Is it more than possible that Gordon's invitation to Erik to volunteer with us at Holy Cross actually ended up changing his life so fundamentally that he took the path in life that he has. As I remember that encounter in the sanctuary decades ago, I couldn't fully envision his life perhaps in ministry, or perhaps in law, but I did know, that the Holy Spirit entered into the deepest recesses of his heart.
It brings to mind the thought that the Holy Spirit can bring those, not necessarily only with "the hardest of hearts" to Him, but certainly those who seem so "distant" that they have no potential interest, nor ever could have, in the Gospel, or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. There are those who say this is the age of technology, and of reason, and post-rationality alone... but I say not. This age and time in human history, more than any other, needs to know and experience the fact that there is forgiveness for those who truly want and need it...there is such a thing as dying to one's self...to become a new being... to leave guilt, shame, and regret behind...to be truly free inside, able to really enjoy life...and to know the Lord has a fail-proof provision for those who are fearful and lacking profound meaning in life...
Having breakfast with Erik after 32 years recently at "The Breakers" in Pacifica, Rockaway Beach...I reflected upon this very conversation...and also consequently, rich, rewarding fellowship with Erik over the years, now having become decades... a gentleman of vision, of insight and conviction, faith in the Living God, and great responsibility in serving others, a man dedicated to issues of justice and mercy. I sometimes wonder if he still asks the same question...or...if at times...persons of faith, like Jeremiah, too, and the Lord Jesus, just need to remain silent, and speak when the Lord wants us to speak...and to speak up...with assurance and conviction!
So why didn't Jesus say something to Pilate? Why didn't Jesus speak up to defend Himself? We don't have an answer to that question, and yet, we DO have an answer!
Because Jesus, in the wider perspective, was not on trial...Pilate and the chief priests were on trial. I can just imagine the Lord Jesus and Pontius Pilate in dialogue up in heaven...Jesus saying to Pilate, "Do you get it now, why I didn't try to defend myself?" I imagine Pilate replying, "Lord, forgive me! I should've known better! How can I deal in the eternal perspective...with what I did...and what I didn't do! I thought I was in charge...actually, Jesus, you were in charge..."
It paved the way for the cross, Jesus' death, the Resurrection...and our salvation...
You know, you are loved so dearly, so completely in the Lord. Respond to that love with your heart. Respond to that love with you mind. In the process, be kind to yourself, and be compassionate to others. Remember to pray for all in need.
Dan Cinti continues to heal...Lea will have her baby very soon...to all who've been ill or experienced loss, blessing and healing in Jesus.
Happy, Blessed Holy Week to all! Cordially, Tom
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Next Sunday, March 28, 2021, is Palm Sunday
Thought for the Day
"...let us live up to what we have already attained..." Philippians 3:16
"...I will put my law in their minds...and write it on their hearts...I will be their God...and they will be my people..." Jeremiah 31:33b
"...I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead..." Philippians 3:10-11
"...now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast... They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request... 'Sir', they said, '...we would like to see Jesus'..." John 12:20-21
Gracious, faithful God!
This morning we desire---with all of our being---to give you hearty praise. The Scriptures clearly teach that as we do so, you inhabit that praise. We are "made whole" in praise. We are are restored in praise. We are refreshed in praise. It's been a past week of lots of challenges. We haven't always done the right thing the way we could have...
Lord, forgive us all our sins...those things we have thought, said, and done, that go against your provision for our lives. We are, yes, sorry for sinning against you...and you, only. Grant that old familiar sense and feeling of assurance and inner peace.
When we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, we can count on your promise that we will be restored unto you. And then, in praise, we will be brought rightly into your powerful presence, and meanwhile, truly, we will come into ourselves. Thank you, God!
Grant us the courage, strength, patience, and confidence we need to be your friendly and fit representative of the Gospel in our world. Help us to remember to pray, at all times and all situations. Save us from discouragement during our day. Help us to be helpful to others. Help us to pass on the Divine reason we have for being an outgoing and peaceable human being. Let us be blessed. Let us be a blessing. Be with our troops overseas. Be with all those who serve at home...police personal, firefighters, politicians, pastors, and also, manual workers, garbage collectors, and farmers, who provide our food.
We pray all these things in the name of our personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen.
As we consider the Scriptures for today and as well, think about the Bible verses from last week, I've been concentrating on those folks in the text who seem to be truly interested in meeting Jesus. There is the great Pharisee, Nicodemus, of course, and now today, the "Greeks", a group of Gentiles who have come to witness the Passover in 29 AD.
He probably could transport His hearers from their present circumstances and put themselves right into the middle of His parables. Or, perhaps they would fit themselves in His stories, identifying themselves with one character or another. The only conflict might be that a worker would be shirking his duty by listening. Think about it! There was no television, no movies, no cellular phones, and no street poster advertisements.
Praise the Lord! Let's go back to those times...
A person would have a sufficient amount of time to digest the various levels to be understood in the parables, and without constant interruption and distraction, pass on the wisdom of the teaching to others, and in the process, grow spiritually., and as well, make it a social thing. These days we hear these remarkable texts from the Bible, marvel at them, and move on to the next venue, hardly retaining anything permanently.It's a matter of having too much of a good thing.
Are we retaining what we are learning about Jesus and our relationship with Him in order that it can become part of us, Jesus becoming more--and you and I---becoming less?
The thought came up during our "periscope studies" last Tuesday in regard to the crowd on the original Palm Sunday --- Were the people on hand really interested in Jesus of Nazareth as "King of the Jews"? Or, did they gather for a remarkable teller of parables?
The conclusion was that Jesus was tagged by the crowd as a "miracle worker". Widespread talk all over Israel was that Jesus performed miracles. Nobody seemed to dispute that. The news had spread like wildfire, whether changing water into wine or healing someone. This was just the thing Jesus wanted to discourage. There had been a Divine "design purpose" in Jesus' coming...in fact...even before the foundation of the earth. Jesus was supposed
to come to save His people from their sins. The cost of this would be extraordinary, as we all know. Jesus would suffer horribly and die. However, one of the characteristics regarding Jesus was His compassion for others. One of the most important "telling" verses in the Bible is the shortest, "Jesus wept", John 11:35. And, yet, in spite of His desire to heal folks along the way, the main reason for His coming was the suffer, and die, and be raised again for your salvation and mine. The documentation seems to me so clear, as revealed through the Prophet Isaiah Isaiah 53 and hundreds of other references in the Old Testament.
What is the purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ? Who is He?
"...Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?... Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world in its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe...we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block..." 1 Corinthians 1:20-23
Recently, I had opportunity to meet an old friend. He's always been such a wonderful, loving Christian gentleman, and yet, when we talked about Jesus a couple of weeks ago, he said, and I quote, "Jesus was a wonderful person...but, the suffering and death on the cross can be removed from the story. It's so sad, he was such a great man. The important thing is that he did the good things he did...that's what mattered then and that's what matters now...
This is not Christian faith. This is something else.
You and I were bought and freed from sin at great cost to God through Christ Jesus...
PERSONAL FORGIVENESS IS ESSENTIAL THROUGH THE CROSS
ETERNAL LIFE IS ESSENTIAL THROUGH CHRIST'S RESURRECTION
"...now, brothers and sisters...I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand...by this gospel you are saved if you hold firmly to the Word I preached to you...otherwise you have believed in vain...for what I have received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised up on the third day..." 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
I was shocked. This man had provided leadership for his church for decades, not some kind of "far-out snake-worshipping fellowship in a swamp some place", but from one of our standard Christian denominations. Someone might say I am over-reacting, but I'm convinced not...
I suppose there was a time I would've let that comment pass, and not ruffle any feathers. But, I've become a "crusty old fellow" lacking in manners, but also, exceedingly more aware to my very soul, the reason for the Lord Jesus Christ in my life. I sometimes think if I was the only human being who ever existed Jesus still would have come to save me from myself.
The Scripture which now comes to mind:
"...your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus...who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a slave, being made in human likeness...and being found in the appearance of a man, He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father..." Philippians 2:5-11
Our journey to Holy Week, or Passion Week, is almost ended in the decisive year for many, 2021, during the Season of Lent. We've been walked with Jesus on the arduous, but beautiful pathway that'll lead us in Holy Week to our Jerusalem. For some, it wasn't a walk at all, but a "run" to win the prize of relating ourselves, and with many, updating our relationship with the Savior. Friends, we are saved by God's grace. I want to emphasize that this morning.
Nonetheless, it is encouraging to be reminded of how important it is for us to do just as Jesus did...to go out of our way...to put ourselves on the line...to share the story to those perishing...
Saint Paul writes:
"...don't you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize...Run in such a way as to get the prize...everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training...they do it to get a crown that will not last...but we do it to get a crown that will last forever... therefore I don't run like a person running aimlessly...I don't fight like a boxer beating the air... No...I beat my body and make it my servant, so that after I have preached to others...I myself will not be disqualified for the prize..." 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
My friends in Christ, the Season of Lent is meant for this kind of preparation for Holy Week. To be able to experience the full measure of Easter's meaning for us as followers of Jesus it's important to focus. It's important to look within and note opportunities from without. It's essential to get back in touch with "the reason for the season", that is, Jesus Christ!
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
There's two more weeks to Palm Sunday, it's St Patrick's Day Sunday - St Patrick's Day is March 17th.
"...I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God...for the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline..." 2 Timothy 1:6a,7
DOING THINGS FOR GOD - SEEING BEYOND GETTING WHAT WE WANT
"...when Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him..." Numbers 24:2
A SONG SUNG BY GOD'S PEOPLE RETURNING FROM BONDAGE IN BABYLON
"...Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good...His love endures forever..." Psalm 107:1
DEAD IN TRANSGRESSIONS, MADE ALIVE WITH CHRIST
"...God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions---it is by grace you have been saved..." Ephesians 2:1-10
FROM ONE OF THE GREATEST DIALOGUES IN THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE
"...for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life..." John 3:16
Good morning, God! All praise to you, in these challenging days! We give you hearty thanks for life!
Definitely, Lord, we are in the Season of Lent, meditatively, seeking your will and doing things your way, like a seasoned runner under direction of a coach, to discover the prize for being a triumphant spiritual athlete. We run to win a spiritual trophy. We have our good days. We have our bad days. It's all in the game. For us, it's one day at a time, and we must not waste it. It's all so much a part of fullness in life. We are ready to "take this day on" in Jesus.
We train ourselves with a divine confidence we have within, given by your Word. We are not afraid of failure in our lives. We are safe in your undeserved grace. There is no failure in our Lord Jesus. We are led by your Holy Spirit. Thus, we commend ourselves into your tender, encouraging Call to be the best we can be.
Be with those who have suffered because of the pandemic. Be with our troops overseas and at home. Be with those who have suffered in their businesses and at their work. Allow us to be joyful day by day, but bring us through this time of trial and great loss to millions and billions around the world. In Jesus' name, Amen!
The Gospel Lesson for today from John 3:1-21 is not only "Heart of the Gospel" material from the New Testament, but it's also a world-class masterpiece of literature. It provides the same kind of direction the reader needs in order to grab onto and hold on tight to the fundamental essence of true spirituality. It involves two great Spiritual masters of the first century of the common era. One is the greatest of the religious teachers (rabbis) of his day, the Jew with the Greek name (which alerts us to something), Nicodemus ... and the young, impressive rabbi from Galilee, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (in the original, Joshua Ben Josef).
The great Nicodemus, the renowned teacher of all Israel, (we learn from the text) is keenly interested in meeting this "Phenomenon" from the North, now in Judea. The text says that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel. He was for his time, "the renowned one". He was the scholar of his day in Israel...the one everybody came to. Nicodemus didn't come to people. People came to Nicodemus.
BUT...it was Nicodemus who came to Jesus...at night...Why?
He didn't want to be recognized as "going out of his way" to meet this Jesus of Nazareth. Pharisees and Jesus were always seemingly at odds with each other, it is true, but wouldn't people be asking, why is this great man purposely stepping out to talk to the Nazarene? It was because Nicodemus sensed something deep within. Was it the healing
of the sick and the insane? Nicodemus was embarrassed because he was supposed to have "all the answers", but most likely, thought that Jesus had something to teach him. Therefore, Nicodemus came at night.
The text makes it clear that Nicodemus was impressed with the works Jesus was known to perform. He was convinced that Jesus was doing what He was doing with power from on high.
Jesus flips the conversation. I can imagine him looking directly at Nicodemus in such a way of dispensing with useless, needless conversation. I hope Jesus never looks upon me the way he looked upon Nicodemus.
"Very truly I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."
Okay. We've arrived at a breaking-point in the conversation. From here on in, either Nicodemus will disengage, or he will give heed to something Jesus has said...that...will...indeed...transform his life.
Nicodemus pauses ever so briefly and indicates his interest in continuing the conversation..."How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born?"
Nicodemus is "fishing". This was the typical conversational retort from a Pharisee...
Jesus lays things on the line. Both men are intently focused upon dialogue. I sense that Nicodemus will remember Jesus' words the rest of his life...
"...Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit..." This spiritual thing is not (bottom-line) about robes and stoles, candles and wooden altars, food-fellowship after worship,or how well the choir sings, or what kind of hat the pastor has purchased...
It's about dying to self. Letting go of living to satisfy "me". It's about opening up my human heart and letting God in. (God is a gentleman...He would never force His way into our lives.) It's about finding myself in my compassion for
others...It's about the assurance that God is going to be worthy of the trust we place in Him...It's about the knowledge that there is no failure in the Lord...
It's about dying...and being raised up by the power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It's about being freed from guilt, and shame, and regret...by the power of God in Christ to forgive us, to renew our spirits, and to restore the human spirit so that it no longer wages war on itself...
Other points of our interest and focus this morning are these masterpieces:
THE NATURE OF BIBLICAL SPIRITUALITY WILL BE POWERFULLY PERSONAL AND DIRECT
"...I will put my law in their minds...and write it upon their hearts...I will be their God...and they will be my people...no longer will their teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord', because they will all know me, from the least of them...to the greatest...declares the Lord" Jeremiah 31:34
WE WILL SEE THE WISDOM OF DYING TO SELF AND BEING REBORN
"...I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me..."Galatians 2:20
FINALLY HABAKKUK'S FEELINGS ARE NOT DOMINATED BY EVENTS AROUND HIM, BUT RATHER,
IN GOD'S ABILITY BY FAITH TO GIVE HIM STRENGTH AND ASSURE HIM THAT ALL IS AND WILL BE WELL
"...I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound...decay crept into my bones...and my legs trembled...though the fig tree does not bud and though there are no grapes on the vines...though the olive crop fails...and the fields produce no food...though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls...yet, I will rejoice in the Lord...I will be joyful in God, my Savior!" Habakkuk 3:16a, 17
The story of the great life-changing conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus is...
No matter how intelligent and well-educated you are, you must come to Jesus with an open mind & heart so He can teach you the truth about God.
There is much more to the dialogue, but for today, we'll leave things at this.
Let me tell you something. For years, after your confirmation of faith when you were a teenager (way back when) and the years following, I've sensed there was a need for you to progress in your spiritual life...being the judgmental person may be, I sensed you were into religion, but you hadn't progressed from religion into faith. You want to kill yourself and die, but you want to do it, your way. I sense that God has allowed your present depression and thoughts of suicide in order bring it to your attention to do things His way. For that reason, I am so glad you decided to trust me enough to talk it over.
God wants you to die, but He wants you to do it His way, not your way. You need to die to yourself, and to your selfishness, and to your addictions. As Jesus said, and I know you remember the third chapter of John's Gospel, you need to die to yourself and be born again." There was a pause. There was a response on the other end of the line..."I understand. I am willing to do that." I responded with asking if he'd be willing to pray...especially about dying to self and accepting his new life in Christ. He was willing. We prayed together. I could feel the Holy Spirit come upon him and me. Since that time things have gone well for him.
In the Season of Lent with just two weeks remaining prior to Palm Sunday, Passion Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, we sometimes keep the Spiritual impact of this incredible week for granted. We go through the motions. We may even have a Spiritual lift, but miss out on the message of "new life" in Christ Jesus. We need to be born again. We need to die to self. We need to be raised up, with each new morning, to meet the new day with the full impact of the Holy Spirit upon us. Maybe this year you've been feeling down in the dumps. Maybe you've wondered if God even exists in our twenty-first century pandemic world.
Maybe, like my father-in-law, you have asked the question, "...Is that all there is to religion?..." He left his religious tradition to follow Christ Jesus. You know, religion is a good thing, but it really must transition into Christ-centered, selfless, faith in Him. Gracious God, grant your abundant blessing on my friends who have chosen to place their confidence in today's message and allow them to surrender and receive Christ.
Until next week, may the blessing of Almighty God, strengthen and uplift you...
"Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord!" Ephesians 5:19b
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Good morning, dear People of God! It's the third Sunday in Lent! Two more Sundays to go! Sincere condolence is extended to all who have lost loved ones because of Covid-19 and a note of gratefulness to all of our essential workers putting themselves at risk.
The following verses are the recommended biblical passages for the 3rd Sunday in Lent. There are two more Sundays in Lent of 2021 until Palm Sunday arrives:
"...and God spoke all these words...'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery...'" Exodus 20:1-17
"...Jesus did not need the testimony about mankind, for He knew what was in each person..." John 2:25
"...when it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem..." John 2:1
Would you pray with me?
Once again we call upon you for that special access into your presence, your mind, and your heart. O, how we need the benediction of your grace for this day. Forgive us all of our trespasses and grant us the peace to know that you have the authority and power to forgive us, cleanse us, and make us over. Thank you for the Scriptures. Thank you for your insights and your grace to carry us through this day, and the days of this week. As we ask blessing for ourselves, we do so in concern for others, those we know and love, those we live and work with, and those who are far afield. We, therefore, ask that we may bring divine hope and assurance to those at risk in life, those who are in pain, and those who need to know they are worthy and loved. We pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
"...when it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem..."
There is a direct connection between Jesus going to Jerusalem and the Passover.
The Gospel lesson for today is from the second chapter of John, at the thirteenth verse. It appears to me that Jesus is doing, in a way, what we are doing. Jesus is making the journey from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south. This to me is a literal, and as well, a symbolic journey for the Gospel writer.
Am I so involved in the details of my living day by day that I haven't really focused upon the preparation and participation necessary to make Lent significant for me? Indeed! What have I been doing, thinking, and praying about...that makes Lent what it's supposed to be?
Jesus knew what He was doing, as detailed by the Gospel writer. And Jesus knows what He's doing now, in our lives. At times, you and I may not know what we're about, or where our head and heart are at, but Jesus does...not the Jesus of history, my friend, but the Jesus of today...and my destiny...in Him...Jesus, crucified and risen! Yes, the Lord is concerned about US. What's going on in OUR heads and hearts?
We're on a journey in the Season of Lent---leaving behind the comfort of family and friends in "good ol' Galilee" and heading toward, what---in some way---is destiny and trouble. As Representative John Lewis, of Georgia, used to say, "Good Trouble"! Life isn't just about doing the pleasant things in life...
As I reflect on the Bible account of Jesus' life, I sense that His greatest human joy was growing up and "living it up" and teaching in Galilee. The people there were, and are to this day, much less intense than the people in Jerusalem. Just give me the "good-time" folks of Tiberius, Cana, Nazareth, Capernaum and Magdala.
Do you really believe you are here on earth merely to be conceived, be born, grow up, graduate, get married, have children, work hard, mellow in life, get old, and die?
I remember Peggy Lee singing some years back, "Is that all there is?"
Do you really believe that's all there is to life?
It is the purpose of the Season of Lent to discern that significant difference between "summation" in life and "consummation"...no matter what our calling in terms of work or profession...no matter what our status in society...no matter what others may think of us...no matter how much money, or lack thereof... .
GOD HAS A UNIQUE AND POWERFUL PURPOSE FOR EACH PERSON
You and I can limit the greatness, the power, and the majesty of that divine destiny.
When we go back to John 2:11-12, we read: "...what Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which He revealed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him..." That's verse 11.
Jesus wasn't trying to convince his Galilean friends of His greatness and power. One could say that Jesus was honoring His mother's request...and yet...Jesus didn't want people to be confused about what His "bottom-line purpose" in life and therefore He encouraged everybody to remain silent about His miracles.
According to verse twelve, Jesus' time spent in Capernaum was not hurried. Jesus set ample time aside to be with His mother...and note this...His brothers... that is...as well as His disciples. [Please note here that Jesus had real brothers!] They must have had a good time together. It gave Him the encouragement He needed to fulfill His ultimate task, the one ordained for Him before the creation of the world. It also gave family and followers "something to hold onto" after the astonishing events of crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension that would follow...
The Lord Jesus would encourage each of us to enjoy our lives, and yet, not overdo it, getting swept away in the pleasures of life. He would encourage us to have good, faithful friends, and share "the good life" together. I keep thinking about John the Baptist's confusion regarding Jesus. Was He really the Messiah? Matthew 11:2 He was supposed to be, but, He just seemed to enjoy the good things of life much too much, according to John. Many Christians I know think one needs to "gut it out" in life, and not enjoy the simple pleasures, if one expects to be a genuine believer...that was probably where John the Baptist was at....but Jesus actually provided a much more ideal notion of what it means to be God's servant. Enjoy life, but know you have a destiny in God, and follow through.
The finest kind of evangelism I know of---is for the believer involved to be fully engaged in enjoying life and, if not "the life of the party", a full-fledged participant. But for those sticking around long enough to observe, that same believer is always there present to comfort, to assist, and to help those who are grieving or hurting.
So, what are some of the things you and I can do to get fully into Lent...
The first thing is to DEVELOP INSIGHT.
The twentieth chapter of Exodus is devoted to the Ten Commandments, but what precedes the Ten Commandments is worthy of being called, "AS IMPORTANT" as the Commandments themselves. We read in Exodus 20:2, "...I AM the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery..."
For decades I thought this was simply an introduction to the Ten Commandments. Actually, if it weren't for the first six words written, we would be put in great peril attempting to be good enough to make "the cut", that is, to be righteous enough to qualify for God's approval, good enough to become part of God's royal family, and to live our lives in the sure confidence of knowing that we are in the Lord's good graces.
God knows, and we know, that we live in a broken world. We are less than perfect, and we fall short of the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Since the fall of mankind, God has understood this, and now we know. God is not going to shut us out from His presence, because we aren't perfect. We're part of His family, even though, we fall short archery term: "sin", to fall short of the bulls-eye in terms of meeting the just requirements of the law. No wonder so many smart people become Christians.
WE ARE COVERED
Whether or not we're seemingly a little more perfect than most other human beings, the focus is upon ourselves... selfishness. Whether or not we are seemingly less perfect than most other human beings, the focus is upon ourselves... another strange sort of selfishness.
The superlative message of Lent... Let go of the negative things of life...and live positively in Jesus. Sin and our negative, tragic past are obliterated by the power of the Cross.
Without this insight, what was meant to be a blessing, The Ten Commandments become a curse for us... because we cannot fully live up to the requirements of God's law. The Ten Commandments give us good direction in terms of blessings when we give our very best... When we fall short, we don't hide from God or other human beings. We turn to God. We ask forgiveness. We have God's guarantee of unconditional forgiveness. We carry on in joy to live our lives to the fullest.
The second thing is to MAKE IT PERSONAL.
Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:3b writes, "...no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit...". When I was a boy, I asked my Dad why Christian men and women in our home congregation would heard the words of Scripture and the pastor preaching, and yet, not seem to follow through in word and deed. Dad simply said, "I don't know. The Pastor certainly preached well this past Sunday."
We need to call upon the Holy Spirit to shore up our faith lives. Rather than trying, and trying again, to make it good on your own...call upon the Holy Spirit to help you in doing "the needful" for others and getting things done you'd like to do for the Lord.
Saint Paul is right. Jesus cannot be Lord of your life or mine, unless we involve the Holy Spirit. At that point, everything falls into place...you get the work you propose to do---done...you start the ministry at church you've been thinking about and your efforts are a success...you finally overcome the irritation you feel and anger you have toward neighbors and fellow members and you become best of friends.
Has Jesus been letting you down? Not really. God the Father and the Lord Jesus have been occupying the front seat of your automobile and the Holy Spirit has been in the back seat. You need to bring the Holy Spirit up front.
When you call upon the Holy Spirit to cause personal transformation to take place a flickering flame will become a blazing fire in your life which cannot be quenched.
The third thing is to DENY YOURSELF, i.e. FASTING.
From my past years, I know that Christians have denied themselves chocolate, the movies, popcorn, television, ice cream, comic books, and things like that. I would like to encourage you in Lent of 2021 to fast from...negative thinking in general...doubts about the love of God for you...being critical of others... getting "down" on yourself...allowing yourself to get upset when little unpleasant things happen...and thinking that when serious stuff comes your way---you and God can't handle it. I get the idea that, if you "fast" in this matter, you'll look forward to Lent every single year.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Life is something that happens to you while you're making other plans.
The Scriptural Lessons for the Second Sunday in Lent
There are five Sundays remaining to bring us to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
"...I will make you very fruitful...I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come , to be your God, and the God of the descendants after you..." Genesis 17:6,7
"...my strength is dried up like a potsherd and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth... you lay me in the dust of death...Dogs have surrounded me...a band of bad men have encircled me...they have pierced my hands and my feet...I can count all my bones... people stare and gloat over me...But...you, O Lord, are not far off...O, my Strength... come quickly...to help me..." Psalm 22:15,16,19
"...it wasn't through the law that Abraham and His offspring received the promise that he'd be heir of the world...but through the righteousness that comes by faith..." Romans 4:13
"...Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law and that He must be killed and after three days rise again...He spoke plainly about this...and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him..." Mark 8:31-38
We feel so grateful for the sure knowledge that, in trying times, when we do what we can do, you will do the rest. You give us courage to take-on the new day and the assurance that restful sleep will be ours in the night. Your strong and loving hand is upon us. We can take courage in knowing that your perfect love will cast out all fear, as well as, keep us safe from harm. Therefore we praise you with all our being. Grant us wisdom in these days and allow us to be the love of Christ with all compassion. Be with our American troops overseas and with our police and fire department on duty, and as well, the leaders and Jesus people of our congregations. We commend ourselves into your hands. We're blessed. We're made whole.
In Jesus' name, Amen!
The following is a meditation jotted down by one of our SpiritCare coordinators, the former
Activity Director at the Coastside Adult Day Health Center in Half Moon Bay. Her name is Chase Montara. Among other excellent qualities, one could sense immediately, in Chase, a powerful, compassionate spiritual presence. That quality became even more apparent to me as month upon month in 2019 passed. It was a pleasure to serve loving senior
participants she led and guided. Recently, Chase became the Church Coordinator for the Congregational Church of San Mateo, here in the Bay Area. I was touched by her rather moving "written sketch" she gave me. One could easily understand by the subject matter why Priscilla and I found it especially compelling to share with you.
It goes like this...
Anyone who has loved a dog will not find fault with the analogy made between dogs and God. We need only be greeted upon our return by the full body wag of our beloved companion to experience unconditional love. Hold your dog's gaze for a few minutes, if you can. Stare deeply into those eyes and you will find out how comfortable you truly are with being fully loved.
As a child, I did not understand what love was. I was told often. I spoke love often in return. But, there was a hollowness to the words, an un-returned canyon echo. I'm not sure why. But the longing to understand love was first fulfilled by my dog. When she returned my handshake for the first time. I was undone by the connection.
Allow yourself to be undone. If you can, let yourself be loved a little.
Chase Montara, 2019
Thank you, Chase, for a simple, but great lesson for all of us to take to heart. As Jesus took His very human, but sacred heart, to the cross, He had His divine heart broken, that folks like you and I may know the power of God's unconditional love to make us whole. You know, often I sense the unconditional love of Jesus, in the evening when I settle down on the couch, as Cooper hops up on my lap, and gently licks the finger on my left hand.
Many blessings to you and yours as you continue our heart journey with Jesus in Lent.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
TAKE TIME TO MEMORIZE THIS VERSE
"above all...love each other deeply...because love covers over a multitude of sins" 1 Peter 4:8
WHEN WE SUFFER - NORMALLY - WE DRAW CLOSER TO THE LORD
"...therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin..." 1 Peter 4:1
THIS SEEMS SUCH A PUZZLING VERSE AT TIMES
"...for this reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit..." 1 Peter 4:6
GOD IS GOOD FOR HIS PROMISES
"So God said to Noah, 'This is the covenant I've established between me and all life on earth.'" Genesis 9:8-17
BETTER TO LIVE BY GOD'S GRACE THAN TRY TO PROVE TO GOD YOU CAN MAKE IT BY YOURSELF
"I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me...No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame..." [David] Psalm 25:2
Lord God, We are happy to give thanks and praise you --- in general --- for all things, obviously good and seemingly bad, because we're called to do so. However, in addition, we want to praise you and thank you...on this particular day...at this particular time...that your great, extraordinary love --- your heartfelt concern for us --- your perfect plan for our lives --- isn't just some kind of "quick fix" to make us feel good for the moment, or relief us from painful, unpleasant experiences in the past, including deep-felt regrets, as though they were some kind of accident, without purpose in the long run. We have learned to understand that all things work for our good when we focus in on your unconditional love, and we freely choose to place our trust in you. That doesn't mean that we expect to be made exempt from suffering in our lives. Lord, we are ready to take on this day. Help us to rediscover joy and peace, even during the pandemic, and to be the "hands and words" of Jesus to at least one other person this day. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen!
Brothers and Sisters, we want to continue to pray for our friends in Texas, and other places in the United States, who are experiencing extreme cold, and lacking the bare essentials for present conditions. Please pray for the people of Myanmar, Hong Kong, politically, and the entire globe, during the present pandemic. We continue to pray our seniors [being confined] to keep them healthy.
The prescribed texts from the Scriptures today are fascinating. In recent years, 1 Peter has really grabbed hold of me, especially the text in the third chapter. 1 Peter 4:8 is a verse to really take to heart. It implies to me that if we get into the habit of truly loving those whom God has privileged us to live with, it will pretty much take care of a multitude of guilt feelings regarding sin that could well keep us in a personal prison. Therefore, I buy the gist of the verse whole-heartedly. It is incredibly freeing and powerful medicine for the soul.
What is Saint Peter in 1 Peter 4:1 suggesting? It's been my experience that those who suffer a great deal in life are in a "special category" spiritually. Suffering helps us to be like Jesus, and yet, people will do anything to avoid pain, myself included. Genuine faith tells me, however, that those who follow Jesus should be willing and prepared to do God's will, even when it requires suffering.
We can overcome sin and suffering when we focus on Christ and what He tells us to do. Pain reveals our true values. In the larger view, people who suffer for doing good in this world win a great battle against their sinful nature, which fights to enslave them.
Note the difference in subject matter between 1 Peter 4:1 and 1 Peter 4:6. 1 Peter 4:1 give us the idea that suffering has a positive aspect in that it focuses our lives into the direction of Christ and the things of the Spirit of God. That doesn't happen in all cases, but it happens often.
1 Peter 4:6 is about something else. We are alarmed by the phrase, "...preaching even to those who are now dead..." as well as the rest of the verse. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer (Catechism, page 862) provides a perspective for us, "...we pray for them, because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God's presence those who have chosen to serve Him will grow in His love, until they see Him as he is..." However, Peter's letter has a more powerful element to it.
Things are brought into focus for us as we fall back to 1 Peter 3:18-21, from the fourth chapter. It tells us that Jesus' suffering and death were not in vain. Jesus didn't die, Jesus didn't come to earth, to die without ultimate purpose and significance. He wasn't a victimized "religio-political figure" of that time who fell victim to the powers that be in Jerusalem during the 1st Century A.D. Jesus came to provide salvation for human beings by the shedding of His blood and His glorious resurrection . At this point Saint Peter states that Jesus was put to death, but made alive...to make a most unusual life-giving proclamation and offer to the most unlikely audience.
That remarkable proclamation was made to "imprisoned spirits". Well, who were the imprisoned spirits? They were human beings who had been in Hell, [better translated as, Hades, or, Gehenna], for thousands of years. They were the men and women, who lived on earth, during the time Noah was the building of the ark (Genesis 6:5,6,12):
"...the Lord saw how great was the wickedness of the human race had become on earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time...the Lord regretted that He had made human beings on earth, and His heart was deeply troubled...God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways..."
They were then drowned in the Great Flood. Because of their wickedness they were consigned to Hell, or Hades, or Gehenna. Would that be their fate for eternity? What message did Peter want to present?
1 Peter 3:18-21 is the only place we could look to find the Scriptural authority for the phrase from the Apostles' Creed, "...He descended into Hell..." in regard to Jesus' action after His death on the cross.
Peter's proclamation simply declared the remarkable compassion of God in sending His Son to redeem "imprisoned spirits", men and women experiencing eternal damnation and to offer them salvation and relief from everlasting suffering. This portion of Peter's first letter is indeed remarkable. For years I was puzzled by the third and fourth chapter of 1 Peter.
Finally, Saint Peter suggests that only eight human beings were saved after the Great Flood, namely Noah and his family. The phrase, "...saved through water..." puzzles me. The image doesn't seem to fit. I understand that these eight people were saved from drowning as they traveled through the waters of the flood. However, they were not saved, as we're baptized, by being either dunked or sprinkled. They were saved by the ark despite the flood waters. I can assume that the ark, or any ship or boat, could be a symbol for the Church, the vessel, [or instrument, or organization] that preserves the Word and the Way in order that the Lord God --- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit --- can dispense blessed assurance and peace.
On the other hand, Peter's phrase: "...and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you..." seems very significant to me, especially within the context of the Genesis account. Considering that we're all sinners, as were the ancients of the Genesis text, in the Sacrament, we're sort of drowned in the waters of the baptism unto death in order to become a "new creature" or a "new being" in Christ Jesus.
Saint Paul puts it this way, in Romans 6:3-6:
"...don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death... we were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His...for we know that our old self was crucified with Him, so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin --- because anyone who has died has been set free from sin..."
When we are baptized (like the ancients) we die...to self and to "me first"...in order to live in God's grace, forsaking things most human beings treasure. It's not so bad to live a blessed life style which gives such ultimate peace, joy, and love. With these three we really prosper in this life and eventually end up living eternally in great glory with Christ. It's good to let go of many of the pleasures of the fabled affluent life so that we can focus upon living gracefully, growing daily in the Word, and blessing others.
It is my sincere desire that your Sunday is a pleasant and fulfilling experience.
Be confident. Be good. Be healthy. Be safe. Be well.
The Lord really loves you --- just as you are,
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
My dear wife, my sweetie-pie, has loves me after fifty years plus...unbelievable!
As human beings we may stop from time to time, but time itself is relentless. Most of us have spent summer, fall, and Christmas at home this past year, and now in 2021, we are at the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, lending itself into Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter.
Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021
What is this day all about?
What is the Service of the Imposition of Ashes all about?
We kind of get the gist of Good Friday and Easter, but what about Ash Wednesday? Well, it takes place forty days prior to Holy Week. Now let me check that a minute. Hold on! Yes, sure enough. There are forty days from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday.
The designation of forty days has always provided in the Scriptures a strange extended sense of Divine presence in our midst...we sense something more than change, it's a transition, or a sacred journey, or Godly intervention of huge proportion.
It rained in the narrative of Noah and the Ark for forty days and forty nights. It was God's way of starting the human story over again.
So, too, you and I, as human beings, bound in God through Christ, touched significantly and powerfully by the Holy Spirit, need these symbolic forty days to experience that same sense of God's intervention, holy journey and spiritual renewal. You know, I'm not so much into "spiritual renewal" as I am in Holy Spirit transformation. Spiritual renewal to me sounds much too "churchy".
I need personal transformation. I need the Holy Spirit to take control of my life. Otherwise, I'm much to inclined to do my own thing...and I know what my own thing is! Freedom to me is being "bound up" in Christ Jesus. That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but really, left to my own device, I will certainly imprison myself in one way or another.
Do you know what your own thing is? Go ahead. I won't tell.
Some people end up wondering why Easter...that is...Resurrection Sunday...just doesn't make it for them. Yes, they love the Holy Communion Service on Easter Sunday, but somehow something sure is missing. Human beings like you and me need the traditional time recommended by our Forbearers to experience the transforming power of God in this season of the year. I love it when there is congruency between what is happening inside of me as the things are happening lending themselves into Spring from Winter.
It is because we need to diligently prepare for something momentous to happen in our lives. God is not going to "zap" us without us and our human will being involved. We need to consent to "going out of our way" to receive the greatest blessing we could receive in life. We don't have the ability to just rise up at the last minute on Easter Sunday morning to receive the full benefit of what Resurrection Sunday is all about. We need to allow our special dish to cook and then simmer. God doesn't force religion upon us.
Saint Paul got it right. He could've made a name for himself apart from matters of faith, but there was something inside of him, that made him sit up and notice...that made him seek after God. He became the "young lion" of Judaism. He was smart, he was wise, for everybody's benefit, except his own. He really made a name for himself. He got so religious, he got involved with persecuting the followers of Jesus. He got lost, at first. in religion, but then, he was saved by faith. It took an encounter with Jesus Acts 9:1-19... because he was so hard-headed and intelligent. Sometimes we can be so smart, we're dumb. Please note the words of Jesus,
"...if the light within you is darkness, it is indeed a most profound darkness..."
It's time in the Church that we accept the wisdom of the early Church Fathers and Mothers and those who followed them. That's one good reason to start your journey to Holy Week early this year in the traditional way. There are Lenten guides available, but your best bet is always the Bible...
Die to self.
We need to go ahead, as is dictated by the things we normally proceed to do in the midst of pandemic. We also need do all the important things we have to do, but in the process, observe Ash Wednesday, and the forty days of Lent. It would be excellent, I am thinking, to share it together on zoom, along with Scripture reading, personal comments, and some really "down-home" prayer.
May you be blessed and uplifted this day. The journey begins on Wednesday!
Gracious Lord, today, as many of us enjoy one of the great American past-times, we'd ask --- as you protect us from the coronavirus, and the other variants from it --- that You protect those who will perform in the Super Bowl today. And as we watch, we know you want us to, and you encourage us to enjoy, sit back for awhile and relax, to be entertained...but let us not become addicted to entertainment and make it the most fulfilling thing in our lives. May we sense a renewed call to service: to your Holy Church, to our neighbors, to strangers in our midst and on our street-corners. For things beyond our control, my we re-learn the powerful means of peaceful prayer...for our beleaguered nation...for our Church leaders...for overseas, especially for the Russian people in this time...these things we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Being the son of a Wisconsin high school football coach, I've got memories...
Over and above this, it was simply "excellence in extreme boredom" --- and it thrilled Wisconsin fans. Yes, boring, but precise and perfect. You'd be making a mistake if you didn't give it all you had, your potential, put into action. Play after play, the Packers would mow their opponents down. Although, to some, it was boring, you could hardly expect the Packers to let up or to lose. With Lombardi, a football team wasn't meant to fool you with this "reverse" and that "fake punt". You either did exactly, excuse me, exactly, the way Lombardi told you to maneuver or you sat on the bench.
Even "the Golden Boy" of 50s-60s college and professional football, Paul Hornung who died recently in November, 2020 was benched in a game to his great embarrassment. No player was exempt from playing up to one's potential. You just might have to sit on the bench until, in Lombardi's view, you decided to "play football". Lombardi was tough, but he was completely fair, and very rarely wrong, about his game and his players. He was the ultimate master at the game. Probably more important, he loved his players and he loved their performance. All on the team were convinced of that and played their hearts out for him.
And there was a reason for that.
Let me explain something to you. If a regular person were to shout at you, that would be one thing. If Coach Lombardi were to shout at you, that is, yet, another thing you could not imagine until you'd see some of the old game flicks on television...but note this...
Whether the player was black or white, Lombardi was tough --- and trust me, they wouldn't want him to shout at them, single you out --- but he loved them --- and they implicitly knew that. All players came to believe that they were highly privileged to play for him --- that they were --- and in playing football for him, they learned all they needed to be successful in life as human beings for the rest of their days, at home, and at work.
As an Italian-American raised in Brooklyn, he knew what it felt like to be made fun of, to be overlooked and under-estimated. He suffered it, and hated to see others suffer because of it. Before Green Bay, Wisconsin, that was his lot. Thus, when a player did the job, and lived up to his potential, he was on the team, and became a star. I may be mistaken in this, but Lombardi was the first professional to coach blind to color.
There is something I didn't know about Lombardi.
Vince Lombardi was a genuine Christian from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. He truly loved and respected the Lord Jesus Christ. However, he didn't go to Mass every Sunday. He went to Mass every day. On Super Bowl Sunday, he wouldn't go out on the field until he had received Holy Communion. Dad told me Lombardi should've been canonized as a Roman Catholic Saint. However, the Church claims he never performed two miracles. "That's crazy...", he said. "He performed miracles every Sunday afternoon."
One Sunday when the Packers were playing at home, as usual, Vince Lombardi was in his home church in Green Bay. In those days, during home games, the church was always packed because Lombardi was always worshipping when at home. The priest asked him to tell the congregation the reason for his success. Lombardi got up and told the congregation that one's priorities need to be correct and in order. He continued, "You always need to put God first...Your family second...and the Green Bay Packers third..." The congregation immediately popped up from their pews and cheered...The priest gave the congregation an extra treat, by saying, "...thus endeth the sermon for today..."
Now what does the story about Vince Lombardi have to do with a Sunday message. How could I relate Lombardi's story to the vision and the wisdom of the Scriptures. We can start with the passage in the Bible where Jesus proclaims what the greatest commandment in Holy Scripture is:
"...Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one... love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength..." Deuteronomy 6:4,5
Jesus is asked by the Expert in the Law what the greatest Scripture is in Matthew 22:37: "...love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind..."
Jesus continues with verse 38-40: "...This is the first and greatest commandment...and a second
is like unto it...love your neighbor as yourself...all the Law...and the Prophets hang on these two..."
God came first in Vince Lombardi's life. Family came second for him, and that, we'd have to conclude, included his players. He loved them by pushing them for all they were worth to do their best, and, to do their best consistently. He applied the same wisdom to himself. Nothing fancy=Lombardi.
What if we were to follow that wisdom in the church...[leaving the shouting part out]. You know, there are so many priorities imposed upon folks these days. Christians get caught up in the shuffle. What if we were all...as a team...to put God first in our lives. I mean, really, first. I think you'd agree that being part of a local church family would be greatness, even spectacular...doing nothing more than all we are able do, reaching our potential, for the sake of Christ. Not as a last minute sort of thing,or squeezing time in there, but as a priority...giving God the best we have. Nothing fancy=my church.
That is Vince Lombardi's legacy for the Church of the 21st Century. The game this afternoon will probably be more exciting than prior Super Bowls were, way back then, but the craft of "making excellence in performance seem boring" will never be surpassed in our time. Nor will the depth of love in a coach's heart be more convincing and intense. Yet, Vince Lombardi was far from being a perfect man. Imagine having the coach we have. The Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn't shout, but when we do our very best for Him with all the gifts He's given us, we experience a one time greatness, never again repeated.
Saint Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: "...don't you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?...Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training...they do it to get a crown that will not last...but we do it to get a crown that will last forever...therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly...I do not fight like a man beating the air...No, I plummet my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize..."
We are ready, Lord Jesus, to allow you to coach us and guide us to greatness.
We surrender to your guidance. Thank you for loving us as You do. Thank you for shedding your blood that we can be made whole.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
May the Lord bless and keep us safe in the palm of His hand!
Whatever our circumstances we will start this day giving you the praise and thanks for your Lordship. This morning we pray for our world, our nation, our city, our loved ones, and those in special need. In particular, we pray for those who have lost loved ones due to coronavirus and those who have contracted the virus. We pray for the security and peace of our nation in an extraordinary time. We thank you for your compassion in a world that often seems dangerous, cold, and unthinking. In Jesus, we choose not to be any of those three designations. We rest secure in you, Lord Jesus! Amen.
MOSES HERE SEEMS TO BE SPECIFICALLY ANTICIPATING THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF JESUS OF NAZARETH
"...The Lord will raise up for you a Prophet like Me from among your own brothers. You must listen to Him.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers...I will put my words in His mouth and
He will tell them everything I command Him..." Deuteronomy 18:15,18
FEAR OF THE LORD IS UNDERSTOOD AS AWESOME RESPECT FOR HIM
"...the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...all who follow His precepts have good understanding..." Psalm 111:10
THE LORD CALLS US TO FREEDOM, NOT RELIGION, WHEN HE CALLS US TO RECEIVE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS
"...be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak..." 1 Corinthians 8:9
WE ARE READY TO DISCOVER YOUR AUTHORITY, LORD JESUS
"...the people were amazed at Jesus' teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law..." Mark 1:21-28
It was four years ago now...when we left Jerusalem in the south, and heading up to Galilee...after some really excellent shawarma...we arrived in Capernaum. From Peter's house (with a Catholic Church superimposed over the ancient structure) we walked down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I was strangely moved to be standing on the shore where Jesus called out to Peter and Andrew, and then, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, calling them into ministry to be fishers of men.Finally, I stood in the synagogue there, accompanied by Priscilla, my wife, and Ayesha, my oldest daughter, and David Henkin, my son-in-law. It was like "heaven" to me. Seemingly forever, I had taught Bible, and now, to be standing in the very place where Rabbi Jesus taught in the synagogue was just too much for me. I shared a few insights into Scripture with some young people and their advisors as I stood in that place...It was an unexpected "highlight" of my life...
Now, as I turn presently, to the text of the Gospel of Mark in my personal Bible, I note the following...
from Mark 1:21-27..."They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the
synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them
as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law."
I pause for just a moment to consider the meaning of the text. Although I am physically in my office in Pacifica, California, my heart and my mind are right there in Capernaum, not in 2021 A.D., but in 26 A.D., as Jesus speaks (spoke). I have the advantage of the recall knowledge of the text from the eighteenth chapter of Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy and I am riveted...the Prophet to be "raised up" will be...like unto the Lord...and...like those listening to Jesus. He will have the nature of God, the Almighty... and He will have the nature of a human being. I wonder what else Moses could have meant in the text from Deuteronomy. The suggestion here backs up the theological notion we find in Rabbi Paul's writing and later Christian theologians that this Prophet, the Lord Jesus, is both human and divine.
The text in Mark's Gospel continues, "...He taught them as one who had authority..." Jesus didn't teach like the "teachers of the law". I wonder what the so-called "teachers of the law" were teaching. Was the problem according to Mark, (by the way, a student of Saint Paul as a mentor), that they taught simply that if you do the right thing, you'll be okay, but if you do bad things, you'll be punished...and in essence...so to speak...that's all there was to religion? ...maybe it had something to do with plain old boredom...
On one level it makes sense. However, for all of us, to be totally rational about our lives is unreasonable. We fall short of God's standard. To Saint Paul, that is normal. We sin. And to "continue on in sin" is a self-imposed prison. In like manner, so too, is attempting to be judged trying to live up to God's perfect standard. The Pharisees thought they could. Was Mark thinking more about the Pharisees when he used the term "teachers of the law"? Was Mark thinking that those teachers taught that "human perfection" was the essence of religion. The question becomes...Isn't there something more to our spiritural lives? I think so. Grace. G-R-A-C-E. (God's riches at Christ's expense.) What about this "amazing" thing called grace?
I like the notion of considering that no perfect people are going to heaven...because there really are no perfect people. I like to put that within the context of the God who loves us as we are, but knowing us well, He wants to make sure we live confidently, and eventually end up living with Him in Eternity. Surely, none of us could live up to the seemingly impossible moral standard of practicing Pharisees, because they were so disciplined in their spiritual lives. The problem of that kind of discipled spirituality is that a person focuses on one's self. The "down-side" of Pharisaic lifestyle is (was)...you become the prisoner of your imposed morality. Saint Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:1, "...it is for freedom that Christ has set us free...Stand firm, therefore, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery..."
What happens imprisoned in a sinful lifestyle happens to one imprisoned by rules and regulations. We have been called by Scripture to live as free men and women under God, fully enjoying our lives...
But...there's something else to notice in the text we have in Mark's Gospel. As we read on, Mark 1:23ff, "...just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed of an evil spirit cried out, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are---the Holy One of God!'"
"Jesus sternly said, 'Be quiet! Come out of him!'" The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek."
"The people were all so amazed that they asked each other..."What is this?" (What's going on here? What are we witnessing?) At this point they did not question...the text includes an exclamation point, rather than a question mark..."A new teaching---and with authority! He (Jesus) gives orders to evil spirits and they obey Him..."
News about Him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
The text in Mark's Gospel talks about...A NEW TEACHING AND WITH AUTHORITY...
The idea of religion, faith, spirituality...takes on an entirely different, much more dimensional concept. What is that idea?
1. Religion has to do with being a good person. Religion has to do with keeping in line with obligations, regulations, commandments, etc. Religion has to do with personal and group moral standards. Religion
has to do with maintaining the "status quo", traditions, and "what has been and always will be." In the Bible, it is described in Micah 6:8 in this manner, "He has showed you, O Man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly...and to love mercy...and to walk humbly with your God."
I like it. It blesses me. However, it is nothing more than a moral perspective. The perspective perhaps of the "teachers of the law"...teaching, yes, but without the voice and power of authority...something that takes hold of us...and removes us from the place we've been dwelling in securely, but without excitement, amazement, inspiration, hope, and, anticipation of the good things just around the corner...
At this point, we note a departure. We need to move on up from religion...to what is FAITH...
We need to turn to Hebrews 11:1 for the best definition we have of FAITH... "...now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see..."
In like manner, Religion is somehow necessary, but we need to find ourselves journeying in Faith and not continuing to stand on Religion. Religion has all the trappings of spirituality, but it falls short, i.e., Christianity and the Crusades, Religion and Segregation. The "teachers of the law" know it well. Faith is the essence of genuine indwelling Spirituality. One eventually discovers the difference, but not "The Uninitiated". Religion is spirituality we can observe in symbols of faith, buildings, and implements of worship. Faith is spirituality we cannot see, but as, in the case of Mark's narrative of Jesus' command over the evil spirit, we see the presence of what is deep within...presence, power, and yes, authority. We need to get off the platform and get on the train.
2. We live our practical lives responsibly without thinking our faith lives include elements of the magical. However, on the journey with the chief engineer, Jesus, things start to happen which, at first, surprise us. Later on, incidences involving unexpected intervention, rescue, and shire amazement happen in our lives. We think to ourselves...faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see... and we rediscover as human beings that God is still in the business of intervention and miracles.
If those miracles and interventions don't happen when we expect them, we trust in an ever watchful, powerful, and compassionate God taking care of business in general, and taking care of us lovingly in a way that always goes way beyond our understanding. About this, Saint Paul writes: "...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength..." Philippians 4:11-13
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
THE LORD GOD OF ISRAEL CALL US TO SERVICE TO SAVE PEOPLE
"...when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion on them...and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened..." Jonah 3:1-5,10
WE CAN DEPEND UPON THE LORD TO COVER US
"...He alone is my rock, and my salvation...He is my fortress...I will not be shaken... My salvation and my honor depend upon God...He is my mighty rock, my refuge..." Psalm 62:6-7 --- A Psalm of David
JESUS CALLS US TO SERVICE TO SAVE PEOPLE--FISHERS OF MEN AND WOMEN
"...As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen...'Come, follow me!' Jesus said, '...and I will make you fishers of men...'" Mark 1:14-20
Dear God, It's our desire to praise you lest we fall into despair over the complexity of living in these confusing days. At times we allow our feelings to so predominate, it clouds our vision of what you want for us. Guide us by your Holy Spirit so that we don't become lost in the shuffle. We pray that the things we think and do will please you--and that we'll have the right attitude. We love you, Lord. At times we lack the perspective, the understanding. We trust you will be there to help us to think and act aright. We commend ourselves into your care that our feelings, sometimes like those Jonah had, do not conflict with your divine plan. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
In these times Nineveh's remains are found on the left side of Tigris River outside of Mosul in Iraq. We remember the City of Mosul from the recent Iraq War. Jonah hated the people of Nineveh because they were cruel to their neighbors and they dominated Israel and had dealt the Hebrews a heavy, heavy hand. The Lord came to Jonah to go and warn the Ninevites, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come before me."
The Hebrew people feared and hated the citizens of Nineveh, but the Lord still had compassion on them. Jonah was a prophet, but he was also a Hebrew. In that regard he was no exception among his people.
Jonah packed his bags and headed off...however...not to Nineveh by land...but to Tarshish by sea.
Hold on a minute!
Tarshish is in Spain, not far from Cordoba. (Editor: This is controversial - some think Tarshish was Tartessos was in ancient Spain, Tarshish has also been thought of as Carthage, today's Tunis in Tunisia, and Tarshish in the Lebanon - see Wikipedia). Nineveh was in the opposite direction a three-day walk away from Israel. What was going on there?
Jonah heard the Lord's word to him...he responded...but he chose to respond in disobedience.
So, as people of faith, like Jonah, we hear the Lord speak to us. We respond, but we much too often prefer how we're feeling about things to being obedient to the Godly call upon our lives. We may be even be recognized as a prophet, but still we choose to do our own thing.
Think about this for a while...
Our feelings often have precedence over what God's clear call is for our lives. Jonah ran away in
the exact opposite direction to the place and the people where the Lord wants him to be.
Jonah headed down to Joppa on the coast, found a ship, paid the fare, and sailed off.
The Lord sent "a great wind on the sea" and they were caught in a violent wind. The ship was ready to be torn apart. The sailors on board were afraid and cried out to their gods. They threw cargo overboard to save the ship. Meanwhile, Jonah was sleeping below deck. The crew cast lots and decided that Jonah was cause of the storm. They threw him overboard.
Sometimes God uses even the proclivity of non-believers to be purposeful in our lives in His attempt to carry out His will. Never underestimate other people who make comments regarding our lives. Each and every person God allows in our lives is put there for our good. In Marine Corps "boot camp" we had a staff sergeant who had a habit of using extremely crude language as he shouted at us, day after day. It was awful, but God used him to discipline us and force us to learn how to survive in battle.
Jonah knew he was being disobedient. He was in the wrong place being willfully disobedient to the Lord. "Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." Jonah 1:12
In New York City in the late 1970s, the Broadway play, entitled, "Jonah" had an extended run. Seeing it was one of the highlights of my life. The play took place in the belly of the whale. The Prophet Jonah from the Hebrew tradition met Oedipus Rex there from the Greek tradition. The upshot of the dialogue between them was this. Jonah as a Hebrew would be redeemed at the end of the play by being vomited out by the whale, but Oedipus Rex would be consigned to condemnation in the belly of the whale until digested.
In Greek thought you pay for your sins; there is no redemption. In Hebrew thought, there is forgiveness,
compassion, and redemption, even though one doesn't deserve it, because of Yahweh's compassion.
For a minute here, I'm going to head over to the New Testament Matthew 12:39 where Jesus talks
about "The Sign of Jonah". A lot of Christians are confused about what this sign is.
What is the "Sign of Jonah"? What is the connection between the unforgettable narrative of Jonah
and the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's take a look.
That's why Jesus mentions Jonah...that those who would listen to the Word of Salvation might be saved. Years ago, I let this insight pass without recognizing the connection. It's interesting, maybe even a little disgusting, that the image of the great fish vomiting up Jonah is compared by Jesus as, in a sense, similar to Resurrection.
Matthew 12:41 goes on, "...the men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it...for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now, One greater than Jonah is here...". Because of Jonah, and we're ahead of the story here, these people of Nineveh were saved and will be raised up with those saved through the ministry and passion of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a connection between the Jonah story and the Resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament.
Chapter 2 of the Book of Jonah is a prayer in song. Jonah remains alive and rational in the belly of the whale, or great fish, but it's a fearful place to be, obviously a foreboding place--but somehow the faith-principle Jonah possesses, comes forth, "...but You bring my life up from the pit, O Lord, my God...when my life was ebbing away..." vs.6,7 This somehow reminds me of the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1"...now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see...".
We note in Jonah 2:10, "...and the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry land..." So, there Jonah finds himself, safe on dry land. What will he do next? How will that eventually affect the feelings he has toward the people of Nineveh? We going to have to wait and see...
Chapter 3 is a big surprise for us. Unlike Saint Paul in the New Testament experiencing lots of opposition trying to get people to repent and accept Jesus in his time, Jonah is amazingly successful.
The Lord approaches Jonah a second time. How many times has the Lord approached you a second or third time? Jonah obeyed the Lord and went to Nineveh. As mentioned, it took him three days to get there. He started to preach immediately, "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned!" Jonah 3:4
What happened? "The Ninevites believed God" Jonah 3:5.
They declared a fast. They put on sackcloth. Even the king arose from his throne, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Everyone in Nineveh was urged to urgently call upon the Lord.
When I first read Jonah I was amazed to read in Jonah 3:10, "...when God saw what they did and how
they turned from their evil ways, God had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction
He had threatened..." Boy, O Boy...I wish I could have that kind of response when I preach in the City
of San Francisco! Much before, in the 70s, I used to take a break on campus at the U.C. Berkeley,
to hear Hubert the Preacher on Sproul Plaza...the way the street people, undergraduates, and even
professors used to make fun of him and shout some of the most horrible things to him...Hubert used to
just keep on preaching...and finish with his standard benediction, "God bless your rotten little hearts!"
That would end with a slight little smile. Folks would come just to here his famous benediction.
By the time we get to Chapter 4, we are amazed with Jonah's response to his success in the Lord.
The text reveals, "...but Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry..."
In the back of Jonah's mind, he was hoping that the Lord in the final analysis was going to "zap" them all. Somehow there was a conviction in the back of Jonah's mind that that was the way things would work
out. He was hoping the Lord was going to do them all in. He was therefore greatly disappointed. He
was mad! He was angry!
However... In a deeper part of himself, Jonah knew that the Lord was "a gracious and compassionate God,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, a God who relents from sending calamity". Job 4:2b
That's why, initially, he had run off to Tarshish in the first place. Deep deep down within, Jonah knew that the Lord would be compassionate to the people he Jonah hated...and after all was said and done... God would go right ahead and relent from doing what He God had threatened.
It was enough for Jonah to want to die, rather than rejoice in what the Lord had done in Nineveh through him...
"Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live..."
So, the Lord questions Jonah..."Have you any right to be angry?" No comment from Jonah. He doesn't reply to the Lord's question. [He is so disappointed, so angry.]
Let's pause for a moment.
Help me here. I've got a question. Is this narrative in the Bible? Really!?!
Jonah goes into the outskirts of the city...hope upon hope...that God's going to change His mind... To Jonah, there's still a chance the Lord is going to wipe Nineveh out. He heads out of town, and, making himself a shelter to keep the intense heat from getting to him, he waits intently to see if the Lord is going to destroy the city. Meanwhile the Lord provides a plant to protect him from the heat. This pleases and comforts Jonah. However, the plant withers in short order because God caused a worm to chew the plant up in the heat. The Lord sends a scorching east wind so distressing that Jonah became faint. We can visualize the situation. We can feel the heat. We can sense the misery.
He really wanted to die at this point. He was so miserable. The original text quotes Jonah: "It would be better for me to die than to live!"
God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
Jonah replied, "I do...I'm angry enough to die..."
Finally, the Lord said, "...you have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or
make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh, has more than one hundred
and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well..."
"Should I not be concerned about that great city?!?"
The text ends there. We, the readers, are left to ponder. To be absolutely positive about the outcome, we really don't know how Jonah responded to the Lord's question to him. We assume--with the Lord's question--a profound understanding came upon the mind and heart of Jonah...but we don't know that for sure. In one sense, the answer is left in the perplexed minds of you and me, the readers. In a similar fashion in the New Testament, Jesus would present parables and leave His listeners to discuss the unresolved parts of His parables, to such an extent these days, there are several ways to understand or interpret those parables. Jesus was a master at telling stories. Like the parables, discussion of the Jonah narrative remains somewhat unresolved.
So, then, the prophets of the Old Testament were not perfect people, whether they were Jonah, or Micah, Elijah, or indeed, Habakkuk...their sense of purpose in ministry and personal integrity came through the experience of being pressed hard by God, being made ready to provide Godly leadership, and falling into line with God's ways through the tempering of experience...much the same as you and me...
The questions for us, then, as people of faith, is...
Are we going to be so consumed by our feelings of anger, frustration and confusion that we cannot look, for God's sake, beyond them, and consider in compassion the lot of others?
Are we being reasonable and rational about our purpose in existing as spokespersons for God? In addition, are we willing to see beyond reasonableness in caring and daring to live for Christ?
Getting into a discussion of the material in the Old Testament is a powerful enterprise. I sincerely hope you enjoyed the message for today. Please let me know if you had a chance to read it and if you do have the time leave a comment below.
In addition, be sure to follow me on Medium (https://nibbet-27134.medium.com/). You can read my article "The Mindset of Faith in the Book of Habakkuk". Thank you for your kindness in this regard.
May the Lord bless you richly this day! You are loved! Cordially, Tom
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
...a touch of humor here from Mencken...
"Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." H. L. Mencken
It gets better as we grow in faith despite what we are feeling...it happens when we act as if... "...you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ..." 1 Peter 2:5
"...to awaken something in the heart is greater than giving knowledge and expounding facts..." Anonymous
"...this then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence...whenever our hearts condemn us...God is greater than our hearts...and He knows everything..." 1 John 3:19-20
"I have fallen in love with someone who is hiding inside of you." Hafiz
Lord God, we praise you for what you are doing in the midst of worldwide pandemic, and a diminished economy. You are at work. We affirm it. We pray for all those who have been ill with the coronavirus and their loved ones. We pray for those who grieve because of those who have been lost. We pray for our nation and ask that you swiftly to bring about appropriate order, justice, and peace. We claim it.
In addition, Lord, make us aware of the opportunities we have --- ACTING AS IF. Help us live modestly but well. As we do this, may we be more like you. Show us the way, Lord, how we can think and act in a way pleasing to you. Show us how we can experience genuine, healthy relationships with others and bring many to you? Show us how we can help friends and neighbors? Lead the way. We will follow. Sometimes we need to lean heavily upon your Holy Spirit to show us the way of Christ. We want our lives to be solidly grounded in patience and your wisdom. We want to be examples of the life Jesus lived. In His holy name. Amen.
There are forces at work within us and forces from without. It seems as though, these days, a person can go wrong, having spent an entire life trying to do the right thing. We need to be informed about what's going on. We need to hear both sides of any equation. We need to take time in meditation and prayer to be confident as we make our decisions.
More than any time prior, we need to read and discuss the Bible. We'll never go wrong there. We've arrived at a day and time when the confidence that many Americans have of Christians and their faith has diminished. For many, we are no longer friends, but enemies of the current American dream and enterprise. The Bible suggests that we need to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). I'm inclined to believe this is true.
Presently, we're facing a time unparalleled in American history. We all have our own opinions on what's been going on and what's been happening. Expressing our opinions and feelings doesn't help or matter. Sometimes we share an opinion without thinking, and we're surprised for some reason, it was a big mistake. Some of us have come to realize that our opinion really doesn't matter. What the Bible says, does matter! Today it's my intention to present a topic related to what my seminary professor used to call...
...faking it until you make it...or...acting as if...
God is with us. We're just not going to be deterred. Sometimes we really need to lighten the load and do what must be done. Have you been there? We think and act as if the thing we're facing simply has been taken care of and we're just mopping up---so we can go on with our lives.
Disengaging in life because we are overwhelmed, just seems to make it--not worse--but impossible to overcome. It just seems to "set in" and take over. I've been there. Maybe you've been there, too!
There are many situations which come up where ACTING AS IF --- combined with other tricks of the
trade that come to mind will set the stage for overcoming...
We can love ourselves nonetheless...and then get back in there...
We can be patient with ourselves, disregarding our apprehensions, doubts, and fears...
...until the negatively about motivation catches up with the kind of reality we seek...
ACTING AS IF...is the positive way to overcome our fears, our doubts, our low self-esteem.
As our seminary professor used to say...you don't have to tell everybody what's going on...
just fake it until you make it...
When we're employing this methodology, we're not telling a lie...
We're not being dishonest with ourselves...
We're simply "opening doors" to the positive results needed to complete the work to be done.
Sometimes things come over us...we don't know what it is exactly...but it really holds us back...
ACTING AS IF is more powerful than the negative feelings that hold us back...and it works...
What we are feeling and our current condition is swallowed up...by letting go and letting God.
ACTING AS IF takes us from the insecurity of the shaky present and puts us on solid ground.
When talking about ACTING AS IF, I am talking about how faith in Jesus get us out of the ditch.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
"...In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters..." Genesis 1:1-2
"...the voice of the Lord is over the waters,
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters..."
Psalm 29:3/a Psalm of David
"...weeping may endure for a night...but rejoicing cometh in the morning..." Psalm 30:5b
"...Paul said, 'John's baptism was a baptism of repentance...He told the people to believe in the One
who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus. On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the
Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in
tongues and prophesied..." Acts 19:4-7
"...and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord', except by the Holy Spirit..." 1 Corinthians 12:3b
"...success is how high you bounce after you have hit the bottom..." George Smith Patton, 1910
"...And so John came, baptizing in the wilderness region and preaching a baptism of repentence for
the forgiveness of sin...'I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit'..." Mark 1:4,8
"...a ship in the harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are for..." John A. Shedd, 1859
Please pray with me this morning in light of the events of this past week...
As American citizens, as well as your servants in Christ, we find ourselves in a state of shock after the events of this past week. We may have opposing political preferences and personal views that vary, but we're all united in feeling astonished and overwhelmed. We confess our confusion as we focus and reflect. We set aside other authoritative directives and allegiances to call upon you to provide direct divine guidance and encouragement for us. We depend upon you. Let your blanket of peace come over our shoulders. As you are the God of perfect justice and mercy we'd ask that your will might be done on earth. You have promised that whatever we ask in Jesus' name, it will be granted. Grant us wisdom, insight and peace in the midst of the tumult. That --- dwelling in informed faith --- is our bottom-line. Your provision for us in the position we all stand is forbearance and compassion. We rejoice in the midst of what we are feeling...because our rock-bottom trust is in you, and you only. We await resolution within your perfect timing. We patiently trust in the answers you will provide giving us assurance. In Jesus' name,
Marcel Proust (1185-1922) once said, "Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it's grief that develops the powers of the mind." I like this statement. It's really true. When we're happy, I believe, it is good for our physical bodies. But "happy" is not the only thing we need. We need "times that try our souls" and cause us to stop and think. The Bible teaches us to learn how to bear difficulties and to overcome. We need to pay attention to it's teaching and prepare our hearts and bodies for what is to come, armed with Scripture.
I also like the humorous question, "Did you know that no perfect people are going to heaven?" And then, the comment, in answer, "Yah, because there ain't no perfect people!" When we unite our lives with Christ, we commit ourselves to the truth. Whatever happens, we can handle it. Wait! Correction! We can handle having been covered with Christ. We can bear and believe all things through Christ who gives us strength. I mean that especially within what we have witnessed this past week:
"...I can do everything through Him who gives me strength..." Philippians 4:13
We need to establish, if we haven't already, a personal relationship with Jesus. If you haven't done so before, it would be a good idea to do it now...just go ahead, read, reflect and say this prayer...
"Dear Jesus. I turn from my own way, and in repentance, I freely choose to follow you. Forgive me all my sins. I accept you as my personal Lord and Savior. I know that you died for my sins on the cross and if I accept, as I do, that you rose from the dead, I will inherit eternal life. Help me to be an useful member of your eternal family as I walk with you day by day. Guide me as I seek to be more like you with each passing day. Thank you, Jesus, for coming to earth to redeem a person like me. Amen."
Some years back one of our more profound Christian thinkers, and I can't remember now who it was, said that too many of our churches proclaim what he called, "A Theology of Glory". What he meant by that, was this. God doesn't give us the reward that may come first to our minds and hearts when we place our confidence in Him. We aren't guaranteed the new Mercedes Benz, or the brand-new three-bedroom-two bathroom home with the pool in back, when we receive Christ Jesus in our lives.
However, I've just now made a count of fifty mega-church preachers, all making from twenty-million dollars a year to one individual who has accumulated one-hundred-and-seventy-six million dollars in his career. To some extent or the other these men and women preach...just that...if you commit your life --- AND your pocket-book --- to the Lord, you will be blessed with earthly prosperity. A comment followed the list of some of these preachers stating that these were among the "most successful clergy" in the nation. Hmm!? Successful? I cannot identify with the statement or its association with the accumuled wealth or with the preachers themselves.
We need to remember that healthy Christianity involves that sacred dialogue which takes place between the very real world we live in and the powerful faith that sustains us...that saves us...bringing us spiritual and emotional completeness. We get better and better at living. That is the basic tenant in the theological thinking of Martin Luther. At the same time, may we all be spared from taking such extreme positions that we act out in a way that is disgraceful and dangerous to ourselves and others.
I have one thing to say about that --- Lord, have mercy upon us!
Let us not distain the role of compassionate and common-sense faith in the Lord Jesus. We remember the extremely Christlike...the extremely compassionate stewardship of German citizen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, under Adolph Hitler during the Nazi years in Germany, especially during the Second World War. The power of Christ's message in Bonhoeffer's vulnerability stands out these days "like light in the midst of darkness" as we consider Bonhoeffer's time. The Catholic church and the Lutheran church in Germany during the 1930s completely submitted to Nazi policies regarding religion. It was only the "personal faith" Bonhoeffer possessed in the Lord Jesus Christ that provided the consistency of righteousness. With all the stories that have come out of World War II, the testimony of Bonhoeffer rises above them all. Upon being executed, the prison guard in grief apologized for the injustice of Bonhoeffer's impending demise... Bonhoeffer's reply to the German soldier and guard was, "...don't grieve, my friend, you send me to my God..."
It is our faith in Christ Jesus and His saving power for our fallen world...the one we've experienced this past week...that will provide the confidence we need to know...heart, soul, and mind...that we are exactly where God wants us to be and exactly where we know we need to be. All else takes a back-seat! Through it all, we remain optimistic though realistic, patient and yet confident, faithful in the One who will never forsake us --- only confirm the solid faith we have placed in God Almighty, rather than men.
All the institutions of humankind, the most trustworthy of human beings, the most reliable of human institutions cannot compare to the faithfulness and protection of the Lord. We will walk confidently in Him, and with Him. We will not believe religious mythologies. We will not succumb to the alluring ideologies of the age. The God of the Bible has made our way in Christ Jesus plain and simple. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our might and let the mighty and comforting blessings from that sincere devotion flow into a cold, shallow, and hostile world transforming all that is. Lord God, put your hedge of protection around us in these days. Amen.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Season of Christmas approaching Epiphany, January 6th
"..now the Lord is the Spirit...and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom...and we, who
with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory are being transformed into His likeness with every
increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit..." 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
"...to bestow upon them a crown of beauty, instead of ashes...the oil of gladness, instead of mourning...
and a garment of praise, instead of a spirit of despair...they will be called oaks of righteousness...
a planting of the Lord...for the display of His splendor..." Isaiah 61:3
"...trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding...in all of your ways
acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight...don't be wise in your own eyes,
revere the Lord and shun evil...this will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones..." Proverbs 3:5-8
"...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength...they will soar on wings like eagles...
they will run and not grow weary...they will walk and not faint..." Isaiah 40:31
"...I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts..." Jeremiah 31:33b
"...delight yourself in the Lord...and He will give you the desire of your heart...commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will do this...He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn...the justice of your
cause like the noonday sun...be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him..." Psalm 37:4-7a
"...forget the former things, don't dwell on the past...Behold, I am doing a new thing...Now it springs up! Don't you perceive it? I am making a way in wilderness...and steams in the desert..." Isaiah 43:18-20
"...let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness
out of reverence for God..." 2 Corinthians 7:1
"...therefore, if anyone is in Christ...that person is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come..."
2 Corinthians 5:17
Gracious God and Lord,
You are light and life to us. We confess that we're all too often attracted to lesser sources of so-called light that eventually become a source of darkness for us. We're sorry we get lost. We're just all too human at times, and we're glad that You became a human being through Christ Jesus, your beloved Son, to deeply empathize with our condition. Forgive us our sin and uplift us by your Holy Spirit in these days. In Jesus, Amen.
We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ with every increasing glory according to Saint Paul.
Please note: transformed into the likeness of Christ - with every increasing glory
The new year of 2021 has dawned upon us. For many people it's a time to make resolutions...and like many (most of the time) those resolutions fall through the floor. Personally, I used to make new-year-resolutions, and most (if not all) of those promises to myself ended up as so much dust by mid-January of the same year. How is it that we can know of needs that remain unfulfilled in our lives, and yet, we seem unable to overcome. We're not successful in becoming the person we want to be. You may not have ever thought that God wants you to become what you want to be in your heart. There is something that not many people think about that provides clarity and purpose in that regard.
Who is the fool who said that life is simple? Not me. However we can simplify our lives...we can be guided in our lives in such a manner that what we experience daily is pure joy, instead of the heaviness of an unnecessary burden making life a drag...that is to say...the joy of living our life on a daily basis with the knowledge that we're on the right track and that we'll accomplish all that is precious and life-giving for us.
"...do not lose heart..." 2 Corinthians 4:1--- 2 Corinthians 4:16
It's the intention of this message to combine resolving problem areas that often cling tenaciously to us and...the meaning of Epiphany, the phenomenon of brilliant starlight over the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth upon the arrival of the Wise Men (Magi) in Bethlehem.
We really don't know for sure, but the common misconception is that the Wise Men were three in number, one being brown, one being black, and one being Asian. We don't really know if there were only three of them. We do know they brought three gifts. I'm convinced the Wise Men were actually Hebrews whose ancestors had chosen not to return to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah in the Sixth-Century before the birth of Jesus...they knew the Scriptures, i.e., the Savior would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)...a bright star would appear upon His birth (Numbers 14:17)...He would be despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3)...that a new covenant (Divine Agreement) would be made with God's people through Him (Jeremiah 31:31). Though Hebrews, they would not be considered Jews.
The Magi did things in a way important for us to consider as we trust that the Lord will save us from unnecessary routes and dead-ends in life. We can save ourselves the grief of things in life we can well do without, freeing us up to enjoy the fullness of "new spiritual life" promised us in Scripture.
First of all, the Wise Men made themselves available to visit the Christ Child at great inconvenience...by setting aside their important normal schedule to be present...as a matter of fact... way over there...hundreds of miles (on camels, not automobiles) to be able to say they saw the Savior predicted in Scripture. This notion of "inconvenience" for the sake of serving God is what is called "HOLINESS". When we step out of our way inconveniently to seek God and to serve Him...that is to understand "holiness". When it's convenient for us to nominally be connected with a church, or if we think we're a true believer because it's a family tradition, we are only fooling ourselves. Christ Jesus suffered terribly and died on the cross of Calvary for us. It was not convenient for Him to do so. His holiness becomes newly discovered by us in the fact that He manifestly inconvenienced Himself. As Jesus manifestly inconvenienced Himself...to really follow Jesus we must do the same. We also need to go to Bethlehem to experience firsthand Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child--in our hearts. We need to make the journey.
When was the last time we inconvenienced ourselves to serve the Lord?
I mean really went out of our way...
KNOWLEDGE OF THE SCRIPTURES
Time and time again, I hear folks suggest that they read their Bibles by themselves. That seems to be sufficient for them. But I continue to want to ask the question..."Do you really know what you're reading?" Or, I might say, "Don't questions arise in your mind about 'faith-issues' or 'personal conduct' that remain unanswered?" People have the tendency, I've learned, to interpret the Scriptures in terms of their life experiences without the advantage of having another individual present a different point-of-view about what Scripture means. In too many of our churches, on the other hand, non-biblical activities take precedence over communal worship and interactive fellowship afterward, with questions asked and answered. We can't do whatever we please when we get together to honor Christ. Sunday morning should exemplify the peace and joy we have in the biblical Jesus. The focus should always be based
on reconciliation, forgiveness for all, new insights on how to live fully in Christ. I have been accused of suggesting that the church is not a country-club for saints, but rather, a hospital for sinners. In recent years, the expression has been floating around, "Wise Men Still Seek Him!" Jesus needs to be the center.
THE WISE MEN CAME TO GIVE AND NOT RECEIVE GIFTS
The Wise Men brought precious gifts to present to the Messiah. The gifts were precious. Are we giving our best unto the Lord...or are we giving "left-overs"? The gifts Maji were well-thought-out and appropriate...they were gifts of gold (for a king), frankincense (for a God)...and myrrh...just to say...the Wise Men knew that Jesus was born to die...they had read all of Isaiah 53...with understanding...
When we take a look at our schedule in advance for 2021...and put God first...we receive blessing we haven't received prior. This is a real challenge in the midst of our present pandemic...and what it's done to our economy. We need to start now in the teaching aspect of the "holiness of giving" in order that, at the proper time, we've made significant progress toward our goal. Mental acceptance of the biblical giving principle is essential to true faith. It's appropriate this Sunday to identify it with the Epiphany model. The Wise Men sought the Christ Child and gave Him gifts of substance. We need to follow their example.
NO ONE CAN TELL US WHAT TO DO
We need to be schooled in terms of what biblical giving is. We need to be convinced that we'll be blessed when we step forward in faith with a positive attitude. Biblical giving is so essential that, without it, that "transformation" cannot take place so it's really a part of us. It needs to come from within. Allowing negative thoughts to smolder within us as resentment will poison us. It's not going to work if it's something "we have to do"...forcing ourselves to give generously will make us prisoners, rather than free men and women God promised we'd be under Christ. Blessing comes when we follow Christ without mumbling under our breath.
GIVING GENEROUSLY IS NOT JUST A MONEY MATTER
When we go way out of our way to minister to others we inconvenience ourselves and truly step into the true, spiritual realm of Christ Jesus. When was the last time you said something or did something good for somebody else expecting to receive nothing in return, knowing that God rewards a cheerful giver?
THE CONCEPT CANNOT BE FORCED UPON PEOPLE
To summarize, the question before both you and me in 2021, is putting the Lord first in our giving. The first 10%, the tithe, is what we give up-front to the Lord (Leviticus 27:30). The first 10% belongs to the Lord according to the Scriptures. That amount off the top doesn't belong to us. After we've given the tithe off the top, our own free-will giving begins. Think about that for awhile. If we give to the local food-bank, and we haven't given the Lord the tithe, that kind of financial planning and thinking isn't biblical. Can we do that immediately if we haven't done it in the past? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Just don't feel guilty about not being able to do so at the present time. You'll reach the Bible standard eventually..in God's good time. You work toward it gradually. The Lord will work with you on it...and it will bless you in the process. If you haven't done it, you will be surprised how good it works. I've found that it usually takes some time to get up to the Bible standard, but it can be done in time with discipline. Priscilla and I got there gradually. One needs to avoid feelings of guilt, or even anger if somebody...like this pastor...encourages the Bible standard. Faithful families, faithful women and men, have followed the wisdom of tithing in the Scriptures for centuries and it has always brought increased happiness and fulfillment. Don't knock it, if you haven't tried it!
Can we achieve Christian freedom in giving if we feel we are forced to give the way the Bible suggests?
A person has to do it voluntarily knowing "...Christ Dwelling Within..." will bring success. One has to start from the beginning humbly. One has to do so without negative feelings about being forced to do it. In the world they say, "...don't follow the comments, follow the money..." We know that the Lord will have done a great work within us when we achieve the tithing goal...only the Holy Spirit can make this to happen.
Eventually you will succeed and say with so many...I can't believe what a blessing it is!
Your church fellowship will be blessed as this happens in each believer's life...in my view, this discipline
should never be pushed as a church project to reach a congregational financial goal. It's a Bible mandate
for us. Each Christian should seriously take this to heart as an essential personal discipline.
THE WISE MEN CAME TO WORSHIP
The Wise Men weren't of a "servant class" socially. They were leaders in their nation, they were men of great distinction, of great learning, scholars, masters in their various disciplines. We note that they were knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures. They knew what their journey was for. They knew who they were to see...the desire of the ages. Matthew 2:11, describes what happened to them when they saw Jesus with his mother, Mary. Hold on for a minute...they...bowed down and worshipped Him.
First of all, they went way out of their way to see Him. They brought precious gifts to give to Him. Though these Wise Men were distinguished and honored in their land, they emptied and humbled themselves to bow down before the Child. They knew they were seeing the face of God in the face of the Baby Jesus. You know, wise men and wise women still seek Him!
Are we more sophisticated than the Wise Men? Has the value of seeking and finding Christ diminished through the years because of progress through the ages. Do we have more wisdom than the Wise Men because of our post-modern technology? Let me tell you. These men were advanced in their learning.
Do we have the same profound sense of the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ? Or do we take Him for granted? Can we do without worship...or is worship at the center of all that holds things together for us? Yes, when some sort of normality returns to us, dear people, we'll appreciate being in worship publicly.
Where is our sense of awe? Hopefully we haven't been so "awe-struck" by post-modern technology that our smart-phones and computers are the only incentive for us to be amazed these days. The great Jewish Rabbi Abraham Jacob Heschel once said, "In his day, King Solomon asked for wisdom...In my day, I ask the Lord for a sense of awe in the ordinary things and in the holiness of God..."
So, Epiphany, the festival of divine light to cover the darkness of this world, is right around the corner. Lord God, we're ready to receive it. Thank you for your grace and the light you provide for the way. Help us to understand how important it is for us to be generous, kind, and good. But, setting all else aside, we are grateful for having provided the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, your beloved Son.
Know and understand your Scriptures...
Go out of your way to seek Him and serve Him...
Provide with Him with gifts of substance...
Worship Him with all of your heart, body, and soul...
The Lord bless you and keep you!
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Gracious Lord, we are grateful for the message that you came in Christ Jesus long ago to save us from our sins and assure us that you can well understand our suffering and difficult days, because through Christ, you took on human flesh and therefore you are able to empathize with our humanity. We praise you for Christ's example and life and acknowledge His greatness as we depend upon your grace. In His name. Amen.
"...He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord
His God, and they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth, and He will
be their shalom..." Micah 5:4-5 [from the 7th Century before Jesus of Nazareth]
"...so Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the City of David,
because he belonged to the house and line of David...he went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child...while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son...she wrapped him in swaddling cloths and placed Him in
a manger, because thee was no room for them in the inn..." Luke 2:4-7 [seven centuries later]
It had been rainy and really cold outside. As Joseph and Mary sat on somewhat uncomfortable bales of hay, reflecting upon the events of the last several months, and in particular, the last several days, they wondered if there might be an accommodation available in Bethlehem, that they could afford. It had been a long and difficult trek to Bethlehem. To add to that, my goodness, Jesus was already two days along in this world and the parents needed a more fitting place to take care of him. After all, they had traveled on foot the entire distance. Thank God that Mary was quite young, being nine months pregnant, and walking the whole way. It must have been extremely trying and uncomfortable. The place where they were just was not appropriate.
Joseph and Mary had no idea that the Emperor Augustus was part of God's plan to fulfill His Word in Scripture, namely, in the Prophet Micah 5:2, "...but you, Bethlehem (the walled city), though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me 'One' who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times..."
The angel who greeted young Mary in the grotto, up there eighty miles away in Nazareth, said the child Mary would give birth to, would be called "the Son of the Most High" and that He would "reign over the House of Jacob forever" and, indeed, that "His kingdom would never end". She was to call him, yes, "Ya'shua", that is to say, Jesus. It seemed hard to believe that a boy from such a humble, such a poor family, would become so great a man. It would have been impossible for both Mary and Joseph to believe these things, had it not been for the glorious appearance of Gabriel.
First, the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would become pregnant by the divine power of the Holy Spirit, and then, when Joseph reacted quite reasonably, to put her away quietly---after what Mary related to him what was going to happen---he really couldn't believe what Mary shared, even though he wanted to. I mean, after all, who would? Your girl-friend tells you that God made her pregnant. Who would swallow that one? ...maybe somebody at the movies...
Gabriel had to get back to Joseph to give him the news. It was for real. She was pregnant by supernatural means. She would give birth to a very, very special child. He would be the guardian of that child. His lineage would be essential in this regard. Through Joseph's blood line, the child would inherit the throne of King David, His ancestor, who had ruled a thousand years before in Israel. Yes, poor unheralded Joseph was of David's royal line. This would fulfill the prophesy of 1 Samuel 7:12,16: "...when your days are over, David, and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your descendent to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish His kingdom...your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me...your throne will be established forever..." In retrospect, this became fact through the Christian Church that Jesus would eventually establish through His disciples thirty-three years later.
There is an image that comes to mind that seems significant for those of us who enjoy considering huge contrasts, inconsistencies if you will, in the way we look at things. To think for an extended moment of the Co-Creator of the entire Universe, our solar System, the "black holes in space", and the vastness of all else that is out there, in the arms of a teenage girl, woman if you prefer, solely dependent upon her for his very sustenance. It is a powerful notion. It speaks to the responsibility God places into our hands as we take care of His kingdom here on earth. Imagine how important we are in terms of salvation and service.
All of a sudden, putting everything together, we get the impression that Jesus was not a last-minute thought in the mind of God the Father. As we continue to get deeper into the Scriptures we note something like over six-hundred different references in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) to the life and ministry of this child, Jesus of Nazareth.
One portion of that body of literature is especially meaningful when we come to realize that it was written
seven hundred years before the event we're talking about this morning, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
Here's the passage from the four "Servant Chapters" of Isaiah 42, 43, 49 and 53, especially Isaiah 53:
"...He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted...just as there were many who were appalled at Him,
His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and His form marred beyond human likeness,
so will He sprinkle many nations..." Isaiah 52:13-15a
"...He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering...like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we didn't give Him a lift..." verse 3
"...surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considering Him---stricken by God---smitten by God, and afflicted, but He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brings us peace (shalom) was put upon Him, and by His wounds, we are healed..."
"...though He had done no violence nor was any deciet in His mouth, yet it was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer..." verse 9b,10
"...after the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life, and find satisfaction...by His knowledge... my 'righteous servant' will justify many and He will bear their iniquities..." verse 11
The purpose in Jesus' birth is that He would become Emmanuel, that is, "God with us"...not God up there in the sky somewhere...but God "present" right there with us...God with us in the midst of personal suffering, experiencing loss of loved ones, of being paralyzed by fear, in some of the pathetic and sad situations of life, and of physical pain. We are put on notice. We will need to bear the Cross at times. Christ's job is to go there with us. Pain and suffering is part of the journey.
When we experience pain, we don't need to think that we are going through something that God has not gone through, or experienced. Through the birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ God, our Creator, is able to empathize with us in the valleys of life...as well as being there with us as we celebrate life. In a strange and wonderful way, our walk with God as our divine companion is made complete through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He is our Emmanuel.
...Jesus was born in Bethlehem to die on the cross in Jerusalem...
Messages from our SpiritCare Pastors