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...
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
"...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 lineage of King David...He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and 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 there was no room for them in the inn..." Luke 2:6-7
Even before the foundation of the earth---and the universe---you anticipated the coming of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, to take on flesh, and become a human being, in order that you might be "Emmanuel", that is, "God With Us"...not way up in the sky or otherwise far away...but God, able to comprehend our lot, and empathize with our daily joys and sorrows. We want to praise you and thank you for the gift of Jesus, because in Him we know you understand us, our feelings, and our motivations, as human beings...what it's like to suffer, what it is to experience the loss of a loved one...or what it is like to experience the terror of some natural disaster. Yea, though we walk through the valley, you are with us. We need not be afraid. We can be confident because in all things you work for the good of those who love you, and are called, according to your purpose. This is your Christmas gift to us in this year of pandemic and economic fallout. Our trust is in you. You are the God who knows us inside and out, and loves us, just the same. You are the God who walks with us unconditionally through all experiences of our lives. At Christmas time, in this year especially, we continue to praise you for the reason for the season, our real Christmas gift, the Lord Jesus.
"...trust in the Lord will all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make your paths straight...do not be wise your own eyes; fear the the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones..." Proverbs 3:5-8
"...if the light in you is darkness, it is indeed a profound darkness..." [Jesus in] Matthew 6:29b
"Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire came a still, small voice...
Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave."
1 Kings 19:11b-13
"...but Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart..." Luke 2:19
"...a still, small voice..."
The personal memories of "the place where Jesus walked" remain fresh in my mind, and like the Virgin Mary, I treasure them and ponder them in my heart. I am sure my wife, Priscilla, feels the same.
My daughter, Ayesha, and David, her husband, invited us to go with them to Israel four years ago. We felt a bit sad that we would miss Christmas in the Holy Land because I needed to conduct services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Pacifica, but God had a surprise for us.
In Jerusalem, they celebrate Christmas on the day traditionally the three wise men arrived there, January 6th. Thus, on Christmas Eve, I stood no more than three-feet from the place Jesus is said to be have been born. A choir of Franciscan monks squeezing in next to us in the confined space at the birth-place made things heavenly, singing in beautiful Latin. Leaving the Church of the Nativity, it was cold and raining. We noticed a Palestinian shepherd driving his sheep across Nativity Plaza in the rain.
I hadn't planned properly to be dressed for the cold weather. My first thought was...here we are at the birthplace of Jesus and I have to feel so uncomfortable...I paused... being discomforted in that moment was gift from God...that's the way it must have been for Joseph and Mary...I rethought things. I paused again. I would've had Jesus born in the comfort and luxury of a royal palace with all the privileges and conveniences of the court. God the Father wanted His beloved Son to be identified with the poor, the disenfranchised, the disadvantaged, and the outcast. The message was meant specifically for me. It was the "still small voice" in the midst of the rain storm, of the cold, and of my dismal discomfort. It was the voice of God speaking to me. All of a sudden, in my mind and heart, it wasn't just my desire and my will to be in the place where Jesus walked. On the way back to our inn, the Mulvey at the Omar Mosque on Nativity Square invited me to tea after the prayer hour. I regret that I had to refuse... because I was shaking so badly head to toe from the cold and the wet. We arrived back at the inn. I kept thinking, there was no room in the inn for Jesus, down the street at the birthplace, but the Lord had provided this extraordinary place for us. It wasn't a palace, but how warm and comfortable How humbling!
The Lord would be speaking to me in very subtle ways during the entire journey, "the still, small voice", (that of Elijah's experience), breaking through the darkness there inside of me. The nuns at the "inn" were accommodating and kind. The soup and salad that night tasted like heaven. The beds were like sleeping on a cloud. I would have slept in, but I needed to check out the German Lutheran Chapel across the street, built during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II, I am convinced, as a place of worship (and as a "window" on what the present-then world powers were doing in Palestine.)
For over seventy years, I had wanted to reaffirm my baptism by immersing myself in the River Jordan.
A couple of days after we had visited Bethlehem and were presently at the Lutheran Guest House in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem, we headed out in a car rental for Jericho, the Dead Sea, the Mount of Temptation, and the River Jordan. I slipped into a provided gown and went into the freezing river---after all, it was January...in the name of the Father...and of the Son...and of the Holy Spirit...my head when under three times...and when I stepping out onto the shore, I felt just great. I didn't feel any cold at all. Wow!
Only exhilaration. I seemed to be on fire. We headed on to Jericho for shawarma & freshly baked bread.
WALKING WHERE CHRIST WALKED...WALKING WHERE CHRIST DIED
Back in Jerusalem, I mounted Golgotha (Calvary) and placed my hand over the place where the post of the cross had been in the ground. We also entered the tomb where Jesus was laid after the crucifixion...from whence He arose on the third day. We walked the Via Dolorosa (the street Jesus carried the cross on), down into the Kidron Valley and then up to the Garden of Gethsemane in the Mount of Olives. On the way, just adjacent to the Temple Mount, an Armenian restaurant owner asked if I wanted the best cup of coffee I had ever tasted...if I didn't think so...there would be no charge. I ordered a cup. The guy was right.
Once in Gethsemane, a Franciscan monk gave me a vile of anointing oil, which now sits on the altar at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Not long after we arrived, an Italian priest all decked out in his liturgical gown and stole, arrived on the scene with a congregation of at least forty people. He started saying the mass in Italian and then distributed the elements to the people present. When he came to me, I graciously bowed with my arms crossing my chest. I stepped back and bowed to indicate I wouldn't receive. I didn't want to deceive him into thinking that I was a Roman Catholic. I returned upright. He stuck the host in my mouth. He smiled in a gentle way and said, "We are all one in Christ..." and then...continued on with the other people there.
These were just a few of the blessings of that trip. I am grateful to David and Ayesha. There were many more insights that came to me during the course of the trip, but these I will share at this time. I do, however, want to share another experience that has stayed in my mind after all these years. The one I have selected to write about happened about forty years ago and involved my youngest daughter, Shama. So, we will leave Jerusalem and Israel (Palestine), for the time being, and resettle ourselves in Pakistan.
The name "Shama" is associated with the verse that Jesus suggested to be the most important in the Bible of his time, Deuteronomy 6:4-5: "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."
This verse is called, "The Shama" (Sh'maah). We thought we'd name our third daughter that because it is a common Pakistani name for girls, for daughters, and also, we love and treasure this verse, as we love and treasure her. Jesus thought this verse was the most important verse in the Bible of his time because it suggests that anything less than placing God first in your life is falling short of the standard. It is mere religion, of no use in and of itself, and has nothing to do with Jesus' concept of genuine faith, expressed by Saint Paul (Hebrews 11:1): "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."
CAN I GET IT ALL TOGETHER
It was the early 80s. We had been in Pakistan a little less than two years. I'd been depriving my kids of hot dogs, hamburgers, Coca Cola, Seven-Up and bubble-gum for about the same period of time. They'd missed Santa Claus last December. Something had to be done, because Christmas was right around the corner. Since September, I'd been collecting various items from other Americans stationed in Pakistan and hiding them. I was able to find a red top and bottom in Lahore. A large black belt and boots (my size) showed up in Rawalpindi. Surprisingly, somebody had a hat and a white wig in Peshawar. I needed a beard and moustache. I was becoming desperate by November. And then finally a Canadian was planning to go back to Toronto. He had the goods I needed. I was set by December 20th. Ready to go! O, yes! I needed a sack. No problem! The American Consul in Peshawar had one to lend.
Christmas Day arrived. Some of the gifts were under our tree. Some were in my sack. I appeared in all my (that is, Santa's) glory! My nephew was so-o-o excited. He didn't think Santa Claus came to Pakistan. My niece was excited and a bit scared. Santa looked so big and so fat (thanks to the pillow from England). My daughter, Ayesha, and my daughter, Yasmin, were absolutely amazed. How is it that Santa knew they were in Pakistan, twelve-thousand miles away from California?
O, OH! SOMETHINGS UP
As I handed out the wonderful Christmas presents, you could feel the energy all around the room. The kids were so exciting and the adults acted so surprised by Santa's appearance..."Ho! Ho! Ho!" As I handed the gift to Shama, she took it nicely, but gave Santa the strangest look. Shama was about five years old at the time. The impression stayed in my mind. Yes, the impression stayed in my mind...for years...literally for decades. Last year, before the pandemic, I went up to Bellingham, Washington, right before Christmas, to stay with Shama and her husband Tim because I wanted to spend time with my grand-daughter, Elliot, at Christmas.
THE LORD CAN SEE RIGHT THROUGH US
Sitting by the fireplace one evening while I was there, I mentioned the unexpected reaction Shama had given me in Pakistan forty years before. Here's what she told me, "Dad! I'm really surprised you don't know me better. Listen.
I just never knew how important my hands were to her! I learned last year at Christmas time.
The reason I wanted to mention this story is because, like me, in my relationship with my daughter, I really was totally ignorant about what was so important to her regarding her father. I guess I should've known better. We often just don't know how important we are to others we live with...how important we are to the people we love and the people who love us. Sometimes that's because we don't see the point of going out of our way to show that love. The manifestation of that love evaporates like the mist. Maybe this is an encouragement to be extravagant in the way we show our love to others...first, to those who share life significantly with us at home and in the church...and...secondly, to those who need us, who we may not know so well, but have need to fellowship with, if only briefly. We don't know love more significantly because we are not extravagant in showing it. The tragedy of life is that we wait for somebody else to show us love.
WE ARE VERY SPECIAL TO GOD
The point here, also, is that we think that God is important to us, but it's less so, the other way around. The fact is that we are important to God. We are essential. Often, we think He is great and we are small. We actually may try to equate Him with being a famous movie-star, or a rock idol, or the President of the United States. These famous folks of renown can all "well live" without us, but this isn't true of God. We could ask ourselves the question, how could we ever make any significant difference to God? It all has to do with...please excuse me...a four-letter word...that word is love. It all has to do with perfect, divine love.
ALLOW HIS DIVINE LOVE TO WASH US CLEAN
As my wife and daughters love me and need me, God loves us all and needs us all. This kind of love is unconditional. We have our ups-and-downs in this relationship with the Lord, but it's a genuine relationship and it will never ultimately fail. This kind of love overcomes the world. We have all the personal resources we need, right now, to please Him...to allow His love to wash over us, like the waters of the River Jordan washed over me four years ago. In no time at all, God's love in our life will make us a better person...a much better person than we could ever be without His love. It's just that we need a lift from time to time.
We need to come to terms with personal value issues, and we do so, when we surrender and accept his love, which makes us whole. Some people think they have nothing significant to give to the Lord. Every single human being in our world has something unique to give in love. The Church is diminished by every believer who doesn't provide his or her unique personal gifts to contribute to the whole.
May I wish to each of us in this difficult, dangerous, and heart-wrenching time the blessing of Almighty God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! I am convinced that regular prayer for others, thoughts guided by the Spirit, kind and considerate gestures, cards and letters to family and friends, the regular routine of systematic study of the Bible, making it our regular project to forgive those who have offended us...as our special gift to those who have sorely hurt us and caused us grief, and thanking God in advance that, just at the precise time, (His timing is perfect), the Lord will bring us back to safe and sound to satisfying worship in our sanctuary.
In the meantime, we will praise Him.
The "still small voice" speaks to us in the midst of all the loud noises of the second decade of the 21st century---the beeping horns, the shouting voices, the endless offers of discounted (price-inflated) goods at the market-place, the screams of the oppressed, the bull-horn platforms of the powerful---but we have peace in our God who continues to keep us on the straight and narrow---we have joy in the assurance the Lord gives us that we will prosper in the land---and we have all we will ever need in Jesus Christ, our Lord,
born in Bethlehem, long ago.
In the meantime, we will still praise Him.
"A voice came to Elijah, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?' Elijah replied, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword...I am the only one left...and now they're trying to kill me, too..." The Lord said to Elijah, 'Go back the way you came...I have reserved seven thousand in Israel...all whose knees haven't bowed down to Baal and all whose moths have not kissed him..." 1 Kings 19:14,18
You are not alone!
Merry Christmas to all!
Most cordially, Tom
Would you pray with me as we prepare for a true Christmas around the corner in the Season of Advent?
Gracious, loving God...Christmas is right around the corner...and we've been waiting for that special feeling to come upon us...but it just doesn't seem quite like Christmas this year...would you bless all the wonderful family members we have, the great friends in our town, the heartfelt members of our church...and while you're at it, bless us, too...this is a terrific time of the year to experience something unique and wonderful. We'd like to ask that --- as Jesus was born in Bethlehem long ago --- we might be born anew. We'd like to start out right...Forgive us our sins, put into our hearts that desire to serve you and love others. We want to live our lives in your truth! We claim, in your name, that extraordinary Christmas you will provide! Amen.
Bible Verses and Quotations
"...Christmas is a look into the heart of God --- a God who finds chaos and creates harmony, who finds tears and creates joy, who discovers song and creates holiness...May this Christmas bring us closer to this God, who, in Christ, divests us of ugliness and adorns us with all the beauty of the Creation..." Bishop Will Herzfeld, Sierra Pacific Synod
"...being a friend of the United States is like living on the banks of a great river, the soil is wonderfully fertile, but every four or eight years, the river changes course, and you may find yourself alone in the desert..."
President General Muhammad Zia ul Haq to CIA Agent William Casey (1983)
"...I tell you the truth, no person can see the Kingdom of God unless that person is born again...I tell you the truth...no person can enter the Kingdom of God unless that person is born of water and the Spirit...flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit...you should not be surprised at my saying...you must be born again..." [Jesus] John 3:3,5‑7
It was frustrating, but we learned to wait on the Lord and His perfect timing. A lady at the mission-house in Minneapolis received a "word of knowledge" in the Lord. It was from Philippians: "...being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus..." [Saint Paul in] Philippians 1:6
SITTING ON THE PORCH ONE EVENING
The date was Thursday, December 13th, 1979. I was sitting outside the parsonage, just before evening, reading an available book on German General Erwin Rommel's "Battle Logistics". The church compound was located on an eleven-acre plot going back to the British Raj. An upscale automobile drove into the compound and onto the path to the parsonage. The driver stepped out dressed in the uniform of the Pakistani Air Force, looking sharp and well groomed. (The Pakistani Air Force is something else.) The man was an non-commissioned officer representing one of the senior officers at Badaber Air Base outside of Peshawar, famous for the Francis Gary Powers spy-plane scandal.
He asked if I would be available to speak to his commanding officer after the sun had set. I told him I was free and I would be honored to receive his commanding officer. After some time the driver returned with his passenger---the officer arrived looking sharp in his uniform, olive complexion, obviously an Afridi, with olive skin and green eyes---he quickly looked to right and left, and entered the reception room of the parsonage.
He sat down and had tea. A must. He then asked that the conversation we'd have be confidential. I then responded by saying it would. He then went on to explain that his beloved mother was dying at their family home on the military air-base at Badaber. He said she was afraid as a Muslim she would not go to heaven. He said that somehow she had come to believe and know that Jesus Christ ("Issa Khan") would save her. She was confident that if she became a Christian that would assure her of eternal life. He said that he opposed her decision to become a Christian, but he would not deny her. The officer asked if I would be willing to help her, and as he asked, he made it clear that assisting in such a manner was against the Pakistani law, and if the authorities knew about it, I would be punished severely. He asked if I would be willing to come immediately to his mother's side in his automobile. He knew her time was short...cancer.
We drove to their home. His trusted enlisted Pakistani airmen were there outside and inside the house watching to make sure no other persons were around. One led me up a narrow stairway to the woman's bedroom. I looked upon a person who was very sick and beleaguered. She removed her face-covering.
The woman turned aside her dupatta (neck-covering) to reveal a cross on a chain around her neck for me to see...I was astounded...but I was pleased...and very much surprised by her faith in Jesus. I wondered where this desire had come from. I had to be careful now and in the future. If anybody in her community or family were ever to see this cross on her they could turn her in and have her severely punished.
This was a beautiful Afridi woman with a kind, though troubled face, also olive-skinned with green eyes,
like her son. She was obviously from a Afridi tribal background somewhere in the frontier. She smiled, somehow at peace with my presence there. Actually, I finally noticed, all of a sudden, her face was shining with a strange and wonderful radiance. I thought, the Christ in her is coming through and evident.
Her son acted as an interpreter from the English into the Pushto language. She somehow inherently
trusted me. She told me what she knew of Jesus. She wanted to know more. She asked how she could become a Christian. I asked her if she would repeat her confession after me---with her son as interpreter.
She agreed to do so:
"Dear Jesus, I turn from my own way, and in repentance, I freely choose to follow you. I ask you to forgive all my sins. I know that you died on the cross of Calvary for me. If I was the only human being who ever lived, you still would have come to earth to save me. I accept you as my personal Lord and Savior and I accept your free gift of eternal life based upon your grace and not my good works. Thank you, Lord Jesus."
I told her that this very confession made her "born again"...a child of God in Christ Jesus...nothing more
was necessary for eternal life...except, of course...Holy Baptism. At that point in the meeting we were interrupted. It was time to move. There was activity outside concerning enough that I had to leave immediately. Unfortunately our time had run out. I trusted that the Lord understood the circumstance.
"...that if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved...because it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved..." [Saint Paul in] Romans 10:9-10
THE RETURN TO THE PARSONAGE
I had to be rushed out of the building, get into the car quickly, remain unseen in the vehicle, and return to
the Cathedral compound some distance away. Things were intense for a couple of minutes. However, my heart was strangely lifted up and rejoicing. I was rushed back to the Cathedral compound. I got ready for bed and climbed into my "char'pie" (Pakistani bed). The next morning the Pakistani Air Force officer came by the parsonage to say that his mother had passed away earlier that morning. He thanked me, and told me in so many words, that there were some things in life he did not understand, but he would do anything his mother would ever ask him. He asked if I ever needed anything he would make himself available for me.
I sensed, in any case, a powerful seed had been planted in this impressive man's heart. I am sure his mother was wonderful to him and in general, a loving, caring person.
No wonder God had called us to Pakistan. Some day I will visit joyfully with this woman in Paradise.
THE PRESENT PERSPECTIVE
This year it seems so much different than a normal acknowledgement of the Season of Advent, but with staying-at-home a-lot-more than usual, remembrances like this one come back to me --- one of hundreds of memorable experiences forty-one years ago half-way around the world in Pakistan. It's a reminder to me that the Lord is at work in the most unpredictable ways with the most unlikely people. It's a reminder to me that people right under our very noses are like this woman, so near death, or, so far away from abundant life, needing the assurances of faith we have in Christ Jesus. Her heart had already been prepared to let God take over in last minutes of her life. It's a reminder that people in our midst need the Lord in their lives.
THE CALL TO SERVE AND HONOR CHRIST
If the Lord can touch the heart of a Pathan tribal lady from the Pakistani frontier, without any missionaries around to help out, He can touch the heart of that special person we've been thinking about. When we pray for a special person we've been concerned about, the Lord is faithful to prepare their heart.
It's just the right time to give ample thought to make evangelism fit us and our disposition. It's never a good time leave it up to somebody else who's more gifted to share Jesus Christ with others.
There is no such person!
After all these years I've been amazed the Lord touched this lovely Pakistani woman's heart with the thought that her destiny rested in Jesus. To leave this world in her condition, it was enough for her to go with the assurance of faith. Would that we should leave this world knowing that we'd meet someone in heaven who was there because we shared Jesus with them at Christmas time in 2020!
"...Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of he Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching hem to observe everything I have commanded you, and truly, I am with you even to the end of the age..." [Jesus to His disciples] Matthew 24:18-20
Blessed Advent to all!
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Good morning, dear friends! The new church year has begun and we are about to experience the "new person" within and without in Jesus. Thank you for taking the time for the message for today...
Blessed Advent to Everybody!
"...for nothing is impossible for God..." Luke 1:37
"...and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring...He will crush your head and you will strike His heel..." Genesis 3:15 [Upcoming conflict between Jesus and Satan]
"...Is anything too hard for the Lord?..." Genesis 18:14 [Sarah is promised a child in old age.]
"...I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse...and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you..." Genesis 12:2-3 [Abram (Abraham) receives a promise from Yahweh.]
"Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever."
2 Samuel 7:16 [Yahweh makes a promise to King David after David is settled in his palace in Jerusalem.]
"You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 'Jesus' (Ya'shua or Joshua). He will be great and will be called 'the Son of the Most High'. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father, David, and He will reign over the House of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end..."
Luke 1:31-33 [The Angel Gabriel makes a promise to Mary in the grotto in Nazareth in her sixth month.]
"He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to non-Jews through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." Galatians 3:14
In the first book and first chapter of the Bible, in Genesis, we have the narrative of the creation of the world and the universe. The narrative starts with great poetry. These are the words, "...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 1:2. I've always been impressed with the language used, in such a poetic way. Brilliant.
Some folks try to "quantify" this passage by attempting to make this Genesis expression seem scientific. (...and let's leave "the Big Bang Theory" out of this...). The text is not about quantity or quantifying, it's about quality. Simply stated, what God created was good...but it was also ultimately poetic, an act of divine genius and magnificent power, and as well, creativity. This should be the focus.
The Bible is presenting a "thing of beauty" as God creates a magnificent place, not only to imagine, but also to actually live in and enjoy. In my experience over the years, various professors and Bible teachers have focused upon the first chapter of Genesis as merely, that is to say, only, an account of Creation.
In addition to this limitation of the text, I note something else. The Hebrews were an ingenious people. Furthermore, they were blessed with a special mandate by the Creator for the Hebrew people. Some
things slip on through to be taken advantage of by the people of the "New Covenant", the Church:
The second verse gives the express notion of the Holy Trinity...God...the Spirit of God...
Within that thought, again, the insight of a street preacher at 24th and Mission, namely: "...the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters..." He connected up with Jesus "walking on water" on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22-32) ...perhaps a slight flight of imagination going beyond the bounds of interpretation...
When I look at the text from the first chapter of the Bible, it seems clear to me there is something else there that would be very easy to miss. I'd call it "a literary device" used by the author, normally acknowledged as Moses. To me, the first chapter sets up a pattern for the rest of all sixty-six books of Scripture---and---the focus hidden from normal view is based upon something worthy of consideration. Please note the following:
Genesis 1:3 --- "...And God said..."
"...And there was light..."
Genesis 1:6, 7 --- "...And God said..."
"...And It was so..."
Genesis 1:9 --- "...And God said..."
"...And it was so..."
Genesis 1:11 --- "...Then God said..."
"...And it was so..."
Genesis 1:14,15 --- "...And God said..."
"...And it was so..."
Genesis 1:20,21 --- "...And God said..."
"...And God saw that it was good..."
Genesis 1:24 --- "...And God said..."
"...And it was so..."
Genesis 1:29, 30 --- "...Then God said..."
"...And it was so..."
With the exception of Genesis 1:20.21, the following is "...And it was so..." (or, "...And there was light...")
seven times, the Hebrew mystical number, seven, that indicated the work and presence of God. There
is little doubt in my mind that this "literary device" was as important as the creation narrative in being
included in the beginning of the Bible text. I suggest that it was intended to be there by the author.
When words are repeated, and when ideas are repeated in slightly different words as a couplet, that repetition usually replaces what we have in modern English, that is, the exclamation point. We have that constantly in the Psalms of King David. It leads me to believe there is a message inherent in the text that suggests that...as God creates the world and the universe...those who understand the nature of faith need to acknowledge, even at the beginning of recorded time, that whatever God says...it is the truth...it is so!
If God says it, it's the truth.
What a message...Creation comes into being, and along with that divine majestic work, comes the message that what God says is something we need to pay attention to...because it is the truth...and the way...and the life. In this manner a divine presupposition is set up within the context of creation and salvation. And God, that is, Yahweh, the Heavenly Father, is worthy of trust. He says it, so it so.
There is a carry-through of thought here. Note. Satan never suggests in Scripture that God doesn't exist. Only human beings called atheists suggest that. Not Satan. Satan's ploy is to suggest that God, who exists and has created the universe, is a God who really doesn't care. He makes promises to human beings, but, doesn't really carry them out and keep what He promises. Thus, the Bible calls Satan a roaring lion who is..."the deceiver of mankind"...he's just too clever for most, if not all of us. When we doubt the faithfulness of God, even though we believe in Him, we put our lives and our future in great peril.
As a result, we note that the strategy of Satan is not to disprove the existence of God, but rather, to try to convince people that God is not worthy of our trust. This becomes a theme throughout God's Word, the Holy Bible. A person can clearly see how this impacts our lives. If we're caught in a situation where there doesn't seem to be a reasonable means we can get through our dilemma, and we're convinced that God is not worthy of our attention and our trust, we have no hope...and we'll fail. If we have no hope, in tough situations, we simply wouldn't survive. We'll feel helpless and we'll be defenseless.
Let's split some hairs here. The brother of Jesus, James, says, "...you believe that there is a God...that's really good...but even the demons believe that, and that makes them shutter..." James 2:19. So belief in God is one thing...and trusting in that same God is something else. You can intellectually accept that there is a God, but if you don't trust in Him, you really have to make a decision to trust God for that belief to benefit you. After all, the angels believe in God, but so also, Satan believes that God exists...and so too, the demons believe in God, but they refuse to place their trust in Him. That's the difference. It chilling to know that Satan probably knows Scripture better than anybody, any mortal, but the Lord Himself.
If the angels believe in God and the demons believe in God and you believe in God also...
My administrator friend definitely knew what his hope was for his beloved seniors, but fear, at first, stood in the way of him envisioned safe passage through the pandemic for them. He grabbed on to faith, that is, trust in God, to rescue those he serves and loves, and the Lord has come through with shining colors. He was led to precisely the correct passage, 1 John 4:18, "...there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear...". To successfully meet the challenge before him, he knew he implicitly needed to trust God. Again, in millions of examples, this gentleman trusted God and Lord came through for him.
Where are you today in your Spiritual life, Sister?
Where are you today in your Spiritual life, Brother?
It's time to receive the perfect Christmas gift in the Season of Advent, and the price of the gift is definitely "out of this world"...the gift of faith at Christmas time is free, without cost to you and me, though it came at great cost to Almighty God through the narrative regarding the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The message for today is about trusting God above all things. Along with the story of Creation in the first chapter of the Bible is the presupposition that---God said it---and it became so. Faith is trusting that God will come through for us. This is without condition. God's not going to "shut us out" because we're not perfect. That's the whole beauty of our faith. Our destiny is as bright and as beautiful and as sure as the creation process was. God said it, and, indeed, it was so. It is so. It will be so. The framework for everything that follows in the subsequent books of all of the Holy Bible is based upon a very subtle principle which makes faith very easy to abide by. God said it...and it was so. What are all your hopes, your aspirations, your dreams. There must be something to them. God wants to honor them because,
like a good mother or father, He loves you just the way you are, but He loves you so much, He'd never want you to stay the same for the rest of the days of your life, as you are today.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
As we start the New Church Year in the Season of Advent, 2020-2012, would you pray with me?
Dear Lord, you've provided real and overwhelming challenges for us in the old church year. Also, you've provided new coping skills for us to deal with those challenges. Through your grace in troubled times, we have found love. Through your love we have found peace. We have prospered in the midst of a crippling pandemic and devastating financial times. You've given us hope---as well as help---in finding ways to make things work for us. We are grateful. We trust you to carry us through more difficult times to come.
We are not afraid. We promise not to complain. We will stand fast. We will not fall short of our precious responsibilities. We ask you give us courage and insight. Help us to carry the message of Jesus so that it will take hold and work for others. We want to reach out to our neighbors who don't know Jesus Christ.
NORMAL PEOPLE---EXTRAORDINARY MESSAGE
Lord, we are not religious fanatics...just simple people of faith...and yet...we've set aside the tools you've given to provide for others the assurances and peace and joy we have in you. Lord, we're not ashamed of the Gospel, but often enough, it has seemed that way. We're going to start something "new and beautiful" in this new year to grow your Kingdom in our faith community and our community at large. We're not afraid.
"...for you didn't receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship..."
[Saint Paul in] Romans 8:17
"...and do this, understanding the present time...the hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed..." [Saint Paul in] Romans 13:11
Instead, we will commit to concentrate upon changing ourselves first. When we have done this essential change in our lives and mission goal...in these days---we'll be ready later to become the experienced evangelists your Kingdom needs. In so doing we will be equipped to do it quietly in love with grace. People need the Lord just as we do. We're not going to hide the Jesus we know from others any longer.
Lord God, in this plan to establish your Church anew in our community, help us to model the mind of Christ. Shower the Holy Spirit upon us, pour your Holy Fire over us! We're ready to be set on fire for Christ
We want to prepare to pass it on---that is, dear Lord, not religion---but the wonderful gift of faith with no strings attached, your unconditional love. We don't want to force ourselves on others, but we want it to be our way of doing and saying things in your holy name. First, we'll prepare ourselves on how to reach out being the person we are.
NONE OF US IS BILLY GRAHAM
Lord---understanding that you know us---we won't do that until we're good and ready. Start that process of discipling us in our heart of hearts now...well in advance of the upcoming calendar year. We know, once you allow "breathing space" for us---it will happen "naturally" in a supernatural way. If we don't start now, we'll be like a plant without roots or water. We'll just wither away and die. Make us ready, Jesus! Send us your Holy Spirit! We plead with you, Master! Use us for your glory---for the good of neighbors and family.
We pray in your name. Amen
It would normally be about four o'clock a.m. at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, where our beloved Non-commissioned Officer would roust us out of our beds in his "unique loving" way. (Just kidding, of course.) He'd gravelly grind the words out in such a soft and gentle way, so sweetly, "I'm going to be yo' Mutha' for the next twenty-four weeks...listen up, Chil'ren, get yo'r-selves in gear...'Else I might do somethin' rash...y'all get a'move on...!!!"
As I recall, you really didn't have the opportunity to suggest to him that you had a special personal way to leisurely get up in the morning...or that you always had your cup of coffee "before" your shower...or that you didn't like people shouting over you as you were suddenly awakened. Listen. You did as your "Mother" commanded and demanded of you. Marine Corps training didn't include "personal innovation", so to speak.
The lieutenant literally ran down from the top of the hill, bent down, and pulled the guy's face out of the mud. He shouted to the poor fellow, face caked with mud, "...Marine, who told you...you could rest!!!"
On the obstacle course on another occasion I had just completed the fifty pull-ups required, when the same lieutenant shouted in my ear, "...ten more, Marine..." In boot camp you were pushed to the hilt. You had no excuse for failures. It was always these words, "No excuse, Sir!" Some recruits thought it was hell. Some of the fellows actually liked it. They just thought it was the greatest. The sergeant just kept that chunk of chewing-tobacco in the side of his mouth no matter what. Often, in my mind, I would think, "...I have some idea about why he was divorced..." All in all, a bunch a boys became men. On graduation day, we marched at "8th-and-I" in Washington D.C. All the guys looked sharp. I felt so proud to be among them. We had all strangely changed. We didn't have any more flimsy excuses. We didn't complain. We were totally equipped for anything and responsible for each other. It was a good feeling!
Sometimes, considering those experiences long ago, I've wished over the last fifty years that discipline in the Church was more like that in the Marine Corps. Personal and group honor above all. No excuses. All for one and one for all. The notion that everybody in your group is essential. No one gets left behind no matter what the circumstance. The purpose of the organization is to get the job done absolutely right, honorably, and efficiently. Live your life fully, but never at the expense of your brother or your sister.
In the Marine Corps, you have no enemies in your unit...the guy you don't like very much, may be the guy you crouch together with, after all your other comrades are dead, and the two of you are back to back to cover 360-degrees, around the foxhole you have to occupy, to survive.
However, in the Church, it hasn't always been that way. In the Marine Corps you're forced to do the needful and to adopt a more disciplined way of living and conducting yourself. The true Christian Church, on the other hand, is an organization that has a different motivation factor in developing those excellent and good characteristics...not by being strictly and forcefully trained...but by allowing the indwelling of the Spirit of God to have sway in your life. The Marine Corps seeks victory. The true Christian Church seeks surrender, surrender of self without exception. It surrenders to God through Christ Jesus...and rather than being motivated by an "outside" force...the true person of faith is motivated mystically by an "inside" power---that being---the indwelling, the infilling, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus answered, "Truly I say unto you, I tell you the truth, no person can enter the Kingdom of God unless that person is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You shouldn't be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again!' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you can't tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is for everyone born of the Spirit." John 3:5-8
Now what is this understanding all about? What was the "strange warming experience" or the "second blessing"? It was the experience of once being baptized with water, a saved person receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit with "fire" and great power, thus, the second blessing. As Jesus seems to suggest in the third chapter of John's Gospel, a person needs to be born of "water" and "the Holy Spirit" or of "fire". After water baptism, when we become a child of God, there is a second blessing which happens to complete or fulfill our initial Spiritual walk with the Lord, allowing us to have that sense of honor, of Spiritual discernment, of personal duty, and of responsibility---a United States Marine would have in context with the military experience. Yes, we must be born of water...and the Spirit...
It is more powerful than the experience of being a Marine. It produces, in an entirely different way, the motivation and superior human response to God's calling that the Marine Corps couldn't possibly do. That is because it's supernatural. Once a person has been exposed to what's happening on the inside spiritually---human nature is turned inside-out! The change is not "change" per se...the change is transformation...
For me and perhaps you also, these have been and are manifestly strange and unusual times. I have never experienced what I have over the last eleven months. Some of us may think we are doomed by the coronavirus pandemic or our present economy, but I'm just not that pessimistic. I truly sense the Lord's coming blessing upon our local churches and our beloved fellow Christians, and even upon those who do not know Him. The Lord is calling us in this time of anxiety to bring assurance and peace to those who need to know the Savior. And so also, I sense the Lord calling us to ready ourselves for a great awaking of the Holy Spirit in our midst, brought on by the pandemic as a blessing, rather than God's curse. The Lord is calling us to trust in Him and to sense His blessing in what may seem like impending disaster and destruction. But, the Lord is in control. His purpose in our lives is not the punishment, that, at least, I know I deserve, but rather the blessing of peace, goodness, and prosperity...and the salvation of many. As a pastor in His Holy Church, I would like to encourage all of us to take hold of our calling to bring many to Christ.
"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant, brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen!" Hebrews 13:20-20-21
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
A Happy, Blessed Thanksgiving !!!
NOTE: Here are QUOTES to make our celebration of Thanksgiving a truly Spiritual one...
"...for God didn't give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-disciple..." 2 Tim.1:7
"...be joyful always...pray continually...give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus..."
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
"...the very fact that we praise God...and not some unknown fate...also means that we are accepting
the fact that God is responsible for what is happening..." Merlin R. Carothers
"...a mind not be changed by place or time...the mind is its own place, and in itself can make---
a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..." John Milton
"...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
"...one single thought of gratefulness raised to heaven is the most perfect prayer..." G. E. Lessing
We honor and praise you on the occasion of our Thanksgiving celebration. We pray for those we know and love, but we also pray for those who are less fortunate than us. We ask that they may be blessed with good food and with hope. This year our recognition will be akin to the situation the Pilgrims faced. We remember the Pilgrim example and the choice they made to give thanks even though the average man or woman of their time would have cursed their lot. Although this American occasion comes once each year, we pledge to celebrate thanksgiving with a grateful heart at the beginning of each and every day. No matter our circumstance in life, we will honor you, your unconditional love, and your perfect plan for our lives. Amen.
After years of revolution in the remote areas of Peru, the "Sundero Illuminoso" ("Shining Path") finally made their violent, revolutionary way into the outskirts of Lima, San Isidro and Miraflores, in Peru, in the spring of 1991. It was a challenging, violent, horrible time in Peru's history. Meanwhile, our family had packed our bags and settled in by September of 1991. Shama preceded us in order to start school in Peru on time.
But...something else emerged in my heart and mind. The Lord had sent us down at this particular time in Peru's history to do a "unique work" for both foreigners and Peruvian citizens alike. We had already experienced four years as missionaries in Pakistan, also a difficult time with lots of adjustments, so that we really were much more "fully prepared" for the challenges of this extraordinary time than we thought.
EXCUSE ME, PASTOR, YOU STEPPED INTO SOMETHING
After our arrival...things changed rapidly and radically...nobody in the entire nation was safe...no one really knew if this would be their last day. It put a "shadow" over all occasions and over all endeavors.
We heard rumors of the slaughter of complete villages of Peruvian farmers. By the time we arrived about half the population of Peru had come into the area of Lima. The population arose from 280,000 to eleven million souls. The urban problems were unbelievable. The mighty Rimac River of Francisco Pizarro's day had become a trickling cesspool and stunk to high heaven. Eventually the Peruvian government fell.
THINGS GET WORSE
Childless couples who had come to Lima to adopt children by the hundreds were stuck in Peru. There were no Peruvian adoptions because there were no "Certification of Adoptions" available. There was no Peruvian government. There were no Peruvian judges to approve and certify adoption of Peruvian children.
Pretty soon it was impossible to buy food from the local super market. One day I noted two women in the store fighting over one box of breakfast cereal. Eventually, farmers and fishermen would literally come into Lima to sell on the streets at great risk to produce and their lives. Their presence and sacrifice out of need was a great blessing for us, our neighbors and the members of our church, the Union Church of Lima!
Talk about inconvenience...the "Sendero folks" blew up the water-works down the street time and again. Anna Maria--my secretary--and I would go through yet another series of days without bathing...before we came to the office...because there was no water available. When an medical-related emergency would come up at the American Hospital during the night-time, the Embassy staff would pick me up in an armored vehicle. The Shopping Center a number of blocks away was blown to pieces by a Volkswagen bus loaded with aluminum explosives. The impact caused the street to roll up and down like an accordion. There were body-parts everywhere on the street just blocks from us. It was a very scary time.
Shama and I were fired upon by rebels as we were going up the street walking Toby, our dog...I thought to myself that, indeed, it was time for my daughter to return to the States...I suggested to Priscilla that she go back; she refused...the bodies of CEOs heading up American companies were showing up at their family doorways in body-bags...things were getting desperate.
Ambassador Anthony Quainton and Susan at the American Residence decided before bedtime to go down to the kitchen for a snack. At that exact time, their bedroom was blown to bit. They were saved by going downstairs for a simple glass of milk at just the right time. I heard the explosion and called to make sure they were okay. What an experience! You could never really know when it would be your time to die.
In the midst of all this, there remained hundreds of adopting parents there. They found they could meet at our church to pass along information and receive encouragement and get Spiritual help. Many women and men who had not attended church for years or decades became regular worshippers.
THE EMBASSY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS DESTROYED
The time came for deployed American personnel with the American Embassy to evacuate the country. Our congregation was diminished by more than half. It was time to go to the "highways and byways" to reach out to other foreigners and English-speaking Peruvians. Among our first converts at this time were the official ambassador representing India and a Chinese business-woman from Beijing...
[Before our departure I had received a powerful "word of knowledge" from the Lord that my family and I would return to the United States with two arms, two legs and a head on our shoulders. Had I received
the wrong message from the Lord? Had it been the Lord who delivered this message to me? I held on
to that sense in the Lord that my family would all return safe and unharmed. Fortunately, Ayesha and Yasmin remained students at the University of California at Berkeley.]
THE CONCEPT OF PRAISE IS RECEIVED AND ACCEPTED
To keep going on a daily basis I employed the Biblical model for dealing with incredible stress and uncertainty. One Friday, in meeting with a group of over two-hundred of these prospective adoptive parents, including American doctors and German business people, etc., at our church...about half of the crowd received the Lord Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior, upon an informal invitation. It really really paid off in terms of dealing with terrible times. Without a government in operation, these unfortunate people were stuck in Peru...or had to give up their children the ones they were intending to adopt. I remember one young single women from Madison, Wisconsin, who just could not stand what she had to go through...after a year...she gave up her prospective son and returned back home. She was completely spent.
A powerful notion continued to inspire and guide both Priscilla and I during these challenging times. I noted an entry in my diary for December 9, 1991: "Praise is based on a total and joyful acceptance of the present as part of God's loving, perfect will for us...You cannot be a person of faith in Christ and not understand this essential of the Christian faith. Praise is not based on what we think or hope will happen in the future. It means living in a hope that will not disappoint us. This understanding is an absolute principle of what praise is for us..." Without that challenge to the "reasonable me" I would not have survived myself.
So, why is it, that, when we encounter situations in which we are truly challenged...we think---what we are
experiencing---is something we shouldn't have to go through and something we do not deserve.
Some of us go to the limit! We get the idea that we are being punished for something unknown that completely knocks us off our feet---or---that it's the penalty for some very painful, remembered sin or indiscretion? Is God in the business of gleefully punishing faithful, though imperfect, Christian men and women? The Bible tells us this is never true.
Dear friends, not my God, not my Savior!
Saint Augustine was right...put your faith in Christ...do all you can...no more...the Lord will do the rest. Just live abundantly as free men and women in His love! He will eventually bless us even though we sometimes dont' recognize it and we don't think we deserve it! It has to do with a powerful concept in a single "four-letter word" --- and that word of blessing is...love.
Divine, Unconditional, Love
We recall the Scripture which reminds us, "...and we know that in all things God works for the good of
those who are called according to His purpose..." Romans 8:28.
We pause for a minute to wonder what Saint Paul was thinking when he wrote those words. We may think..."Well, Paul never had to go through anything like I am going through...".
For this reason, we go back to the New Testament to note further clarification from Paul: "...as servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance, in troubles, hardships and distresses, in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger..." 2 Corinthians 6:4-5. Paul knew suffering and pain to the maximum, but he never complained, nor had a "fall-through" of faith, because he came to know what he wrote about in Romans 8:28, above. It is a verse all of us need to memorize...and more important...live in confidence.
HUMAN SUFFERING HAS A DIVINE PURPOSE FOR A FALLEN WORLD
It is such a blessing for me, also, to know that Jesus suffered the way He did. On one hand, it suggests
to me that when I suffer, I share my suffering with Christ's suffering for the redemption of the world...
Being fully human, even though I know I am not God, I share in the fellowship of "being filled with the measure of the fullness of God", as Paul would say. We are made complete through all experiences
in life, not just the pleasant ones. We are reasonable beings, but faith extends that limitation.
Second of all, it means to me that God understands us when we suffer. In and through the humanity
of the Lord Jesus Christ we know that God totally comprehends the our nature and human suffering.
He comprehends times when we are tempted to do something that is wrong. He can empathize when
we go through physical, emotional, and mental suffering. He understands our feellings of shame,
guilt and regret. Through Jesus --- God becomes "Emmanuel", "God with us". Therefore, our suffering is not in vain. It has definite purpose and meaning for our lives. Paul stresses...rejoice in the Lord always!
"...we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not
abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed..." 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Why is it, that, when we are experiencing inconvenient, or unfortunate, or painful situations in life we sometimes or often question the providence of God in our lives. Our vision in life needs to be expanded
to the extent that we know (for certain) that in all things God works for the good of those He loves.
CONTENTMENT IN LIFE GOES BEYOND OUR KNOWLEDGE OR REASON
"...and I pray that you being rooted and established in live, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high is the love of Christ, and to know the love that surpasses knowledge---that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God..." Ephesians 3:17b-19
Now how does an account of what happened to the Nibbe family in the 1990s have to do with what we are experiencing these days in 2020. As our pastoral family prospered in desperate times in Peru, we are definitely experiencing terrible times in our country, as well as around the world. You can't go anywhere in the world without practicing the safety measures we are practicing here in America. There is reasonable and unreasonable fear. There is terrible uncertainty. There is a degree of political upheaval, but not to the extent we experienced in South America. Anybody can get sick. Any infection can lead to death. If Auntie Betty in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, can be infected by Covid-19, anybody can. Everybody knows it is totally reasonable to be concerned in this situation.
GOD'S PERFECT LOVE DRIVES OUT FEAR
The difference for those of us who have placed their faith in the Savior is that "perfect love drives out fear"
1 John 4:18...we play it safe...we remain healthy...we do good as we shelter...but most of all...in Christ
we know that we are well. This time of pandemic and other serious insecurities of the age are something
God calls us to live in...and live through. We pay attention to what's going on, but we are nonetheless knowledgeable that we are called for this present challenge.
We are not fearful because we are meant to live in this time, stand up to the challenge, and not only survive, but prosper.
That we do in Christ...who gives us confidence and strength to stand...
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Most Sincere Condolence to Rauf and Teresa Naqishbendi upon the Passing of Rauf's Mother...
"Better a dry crust with peace and quiet, than a house full of feasting, with strife." Proverbs 17:1
Starting today, I'm going to remember that feelings are an important, and also, necessary part of my life. My purpose will be to learn how to express my feelings in an appropriate and meaningful way. I promise to be open to my feelings when it comes to church, to family, to friends, in my relationship with my spouse or partner, and at work. I'm going to feel my feelings without judging myself, ride with those feelings, rather than stuffing them down, and messing myself up...and in the process...make my life and my feelings fall together into a beautiful symbiosis...When those feelings seem to overwhelm me as though they were a ball of yarn all rolled up inside me, unravel them for me in a beautiful way so I can understand anew your purpose in my life. Amen.
What is it in me saying that we have such a tough time with our feelings?
It seems like such a struggle for most of us, if not all of us.
We seem to be afraid of our feelings, when feelings have neither large biceps---nor do feelings conceal a hidden gun or a handy knife under our shirt. We deny that we have consuming negative feelings for those we work with, with those we have even befriended, and with those who are normally beloved family members. These days most of us dare not express our feelings in regard to our preferences in the 21st Century, especially in the area of political stance or beliefs. Nothing more said about this.
"Now, Come on--y'all! Admit it!"
It's really tough for us to admit that we feel frustration, anger and hurt! The thought occurs to us, how can we go on with the feelings we have. It's too much at times. To men, I hear often, the freedom to "let it all hang out" is relative to gender...that intense show of feelings is just "a women's thing". I think not!
We cannot bury what we're holding on to. It's got to come out some way, or the other. All too often we just
"cram it all down within" where it decomposes but smells rotten. It reminds me of what us boys used to do on Explorer Scout camping trips...when we used to bury our garbage appropriately in the woods when we were about to leave to return to "civilization". Should we actually attempt to bury our feelings in a similar way, it would, indeed, come back to haunt us...and that's what always, always happens...big time!
TRUST ME. I GET IT!
We deny deep-hidden feelings of frustration and disappointment about the past --- past personal performance in life --- the direction of our nation, or the government, or the decisions of our state government, or our city officials, or church leaders, and even our children, our family members. We become poisoned emotionally and we even become physically afflicted. We become known around town as inherently "angry people". We become known as those considered basically "hard to understand". We lose our God-given ability to live as free men and women in a free nation.
Often we deny a whole wide range of feelings we have toward our husband or wife, since we are so intimately connected with that person. [We don't really want to ruffle feathers.] I liked hearing about the decision of two of my cousins back in Minnesota who decided on a "fine-dining night-out" to "celebrate" the fact that they didn't decide to get a divorce after the last four years in the United States of America.
There is a "very real prohibition" about expressing feelings when it comes to an employer, or on the other hand, the people that may work for us if we run a business. Sometimes our feelings come in direct reaction to those we are sharing a special project or experience. Often enough, we become surprised when a great relationship seems to be ruined by feelings in regard to a difference of opinion when it comes to what seems to be right or appropriate in completing a mission or a project.
"...Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light...it is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade
as servants of righteousness...their end will be what their actions deserve..." 2 Corinthians 11:14,15
At this point, the preacher steps in. That's me...to say...it is very, very interesting to me that after fifty years I should experience the intensity of feelings over what I had done in regard to my precious dogs, and continue to have, in a sense, to this day, when I allow it to happen. Satan is real and powerful.
The purpose of God in our lives becomes evident. We are grateful for the Good News that tells us...the greater the sin...the greater the forgiveness of God...I recall the comforting words of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ:
"Come onto me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30
When, on one occasion recently, even fifty years hence, I sought God's forgiveness, and in so doing, sought the "higher road" for myself in Christ, I had the strangest and most wonderful vision. I didn't manufacture it for myself to feel better...or attempt to relieve myself, but...a powerful feeling of assurance came over me...that things had worked out for my dear doggies way back then. I guess, like many other things in life, we need assurances like this, that are not an excuse to let us "off the hook" from feeling our crushing guilt.
GOD IS GOOD. GOD IS REAL. GOD IS PRESENT.
To summarize, regardless of what it is that makes us feel the way we do, our feelings are still ours...that is to say, we own them. In the grace we have in the Lord Jesus, acceptance of what has taken place, or hasn't indeed happened, is often all that is needed to make them go away. We don't have to allow our feelings to control us and the way we act in life. Saint Paul says it so well in Galatians 5:1,13, "It is for the sake of freedom that Christ sets us free...stand firm, then, and don't let yourselves be burdened again with a yoke of slavery...you, brothers and sisters, were called to be free...just don't use that freedom to indulge the sinful nature..." We don't need to go right ahead into a devious way of escaping to indulge our lower nature with inappropriate thoughts and behavior as an excuse for the way we feel. I know many, many people ruin their lives living in that way...they stubbornly hold onto feelings that cause them to go wayward.
What's the role of a community of faith in terms of addressing a very real problem for human beings?
Now, when I write about what I have shared, thus far, I don't mean to address this to a "Country Club for Saints"...a church wherein all the folks wear "spanking-white shoes" and present themselves as "almost" perfect. I'm glad to proclaim (rest assured) that "No perfect people are going to heaven!" Really? Did you know that? The reason for that is ...in short...there ain't no perfect people. God was so smart He knows that He deals with "a fallen race"...inclined all too often...to make decisions contrary to what is helpful in life. It's a reminder for us that we're not punished for our sins, but rather, we are punished by our sins. On the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ became our sin ("the sin-bearer") that you and I may be "free from sin, death, and the power of the devil". Jesus literally became our sin. Hold on to that statement, Nibbe, I want to savor those words from Scripture. I prefer being in a community, therefore, that is a "Hospital for Sinners" rather than a country-club for saints. I'm up for that as long as all folks know they are made whole in God.
So what do we do with our feelings? They are only feelings! Remember that! It's not our feelings that will hurt us. It is what we do with them.
Feelings seem so very powerful. People often base their lives on how and what they feel. They then act
out on what they are feeling. It doesn't end up well. Feelings are only feelings! It needs to go no further. Do what you need to do to acknowledge what you're feeling...think things through without acting out on them...ask the Lord Jesus to help you process what you are feeling...that's the thing to do...because our feelings are nonetheless powerful and have control over our motivation to act.
DWJD [Do what Jesus would do.] (for some it has become a slogan some people joke about)
That's what makes faith genuine. Rather than doing what we would initially want to do...we process what has "grabbed us by the neck"...and eventually...we do what Jesus would do. It isn't our identification with our local church, or with what denominational affiliation we may have, or what connection or what kind of "pull" we have that allows us to literally "get by with murder" and yet cover us in the end.
JUST DO WHAT JESUS WOULD DO ANYWAY
It helps us to talk about our feelings with a kind, gentle person we trust. At times it's really a good thing
to bring our feelings to the person who triggered them. We can actually, with a little bit of personal courage, make a trusted friend out of a despised enemy. A number of years ago a very active, lovely lady in the congregation approached me with her complaint about another lady in the church..."I can't stand that lady", she said, "Pastor, what can I do." My reply was not a comfort for her..."You know you're going to have to spend eternity with her someday..." Not well received. She replied, "What should I do?" I suggested, "...Take her to lunch..." That's what happened. The sandwiches were good. The shakes were good. They became great friends and even better fellow workers in the congregation and beyond.
Just a comment I hope will be helpful. None of us are exempt from dealing with our feelings. Some of those feelings are really pleasant. However, many feelings really challenge us and our well-being. It's not our feelings that will get us into trouble, though they can get us down. It's how we react to the way we feel.
In the midst of living out our lives day by day, often enough, it's kind of like a "roller-coaster". The role of God in all of this is to take us off the roller-coaster. In the Lord, we have the assurance to know that He will come to our aid in the most dire of situations. We will do our very best and He will cover us. We simply need to ask, (even though it's become a joke to some), what would Jesus do? We will always do well with Him walking beside us. Sometimes we'll seem to fail, but He'll cover us --- to the extent that often our seeming mistakes we eventually realize become what God had in mind anyway. Finally, keep in mind that God will not allow us to experience anything other than what He has planned for us to go through for our good...and our spiritual maturity. Sometimes that might seem unpleasant, other times unfair, unreasonable or even unacceptable. Someday soon enough, God will reveal what good He had in mind for us.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
"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." Saint Paul in Philippians 4:11-13
Good morning, God!
We've got to be honest with you and ourselves. Often---we feel there just aren't enough resources or motivation for us to be confident enough to get on with Jesus' promise for us of "full life". Sometimes we are tempted to just give up. Lord, it seems like we've got a clear choice to make. We can complain about "what is", or more so about "what is not"---or---we can claim in you that we have all we need today to meet the challenges before us---to give you praise in advance---and convince ourselves that you are equipping us all to have a resourceful and successful day. Help us to focus in on what we think in our hearts is right for us...and follow through.
Help us to let go of our fears about not being successful, not having the ability to do the right thing at the right time. Help us also to have the motivation to step outward to make someone else's life easier. Help us to "turn the burden over to you" so we can carry a reasonable load. Take away our self-made barriers to happiness in life. Thank you for this life of faith to know that you will meet our needs this day. We pray in your name, Jesus. Amen.
The year was 1982. We were five then...there was my wife, Priscilla, and three great daughters, Ayesha, Yasmin, and Shama---and there was me. Our little family had spent the last four years as missionaries in Pakistan. I had sent a letter back to the States letting church administration know of our return. Arriving back in the States, I had the mistaken notion that the local synod had been thinking about us and had made provisions for us to adjust to life as a pastoral family in California.
There was no provision whatsoever. The fantasy I had had about being warmly welcomed back by a joyful group of fellow believers vanished quickly. Basically they had not only forgotten about us, but I was no longer officially rostered as an ordained pastor. I literally had to fight my way back into the visible church, go before a vocations committee, and in the process, be accused of being "too evangelical"---and almost dismissed---except for one very special committee lady who stood up for me.
Moments like this should never happen. At this particular time there were evidently no congregations open for us to interview at... according to the administration, (not the bishop). Was it actually because we were a racially mixed couple? I didn't think it was because I was generally thought to be "unfit" to be a pastor. I knew there were indeed vacant positions open in the area. The question became...not what the church was doing...or not doing.
The question in my mind increasingly became...What is God doing? What kind of refinement is taking place in my life and in the individual members of my family? At this time I was actually beginning to think more appropriately (spiritually speaking) about priorities. Was I going to be suspicious about other peoples' unknown, unspoken motivations in the Church...to try to "outguess" the church authorities...and in the end poison my heart and mind...becoming a disappointed and bitter old man in the end.
In all truth, I had to ask myself:
IT WAS THE LORD...or I move on to greener pastures...
I'm not suggesting that folks in the Church are always going to be short-sighted and short-change those in their charge. I'm not suggesting that Church authorities are always going to be wrong, and you have to set them straight. I am saying, however, that each of us has a Call from God to serve Him...and we need to "stand our ground" with the vision the Lord has given us...about what our destiny in the Lord Jesus is...
"...humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time...cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you..." 1 Peter 5:6-7
It's important that I express my commitment to others in the Visible Church that I must respect them, do well by them, enhance their sense of call from God, and anticipate that they will fulfill their ministry and bless me and those I know and love, but, I want to make myself crystal clear sharing what I have learned over fifty years in the ministry...ultimately...trust only in the Lord. In the process, do not judge others when they fail you. Do not revile them. Forgive them. Pour hot coals over their heads "by your kindness" after they have wronged you. Keep you focus on the Lord. Trust only Him. (Back to my story...)
Meanwhile in Berkeley, our family kept tightly together. The girls went to school and did exceptionally well. We shopped at local rummage stores and garage sales for jeans and other essential items. The jeans had holes and tears in them and I was afraid the girls were going to be laughed at and teased---but no, all the well-to-do girls in Berkeley wore expensive jeans that had holes and tears in them. (Be it noted: God is good all the time! As a family of five we stayed at first with my former classmate in his one-bedroom house and then were invited to live for two weeks with a Godly lady who lived in a spacious home in the Berkeley hills. We ended up being there with her for a year or so. It helped as an Episcopalian that she thought I should start (then) today as the Assistant to the Bishop in Grace Cathedral. What a morale-builder! I kept getting odd jobs along the way. Meanwhile we prayed together earnestly that God would provide supper for five for that day at morning-time, sometimes for breakfast shortly after we awoke in the morning. The Lord always provided on time. We had lots of prayer support from sincere Christians who were pulling for us. The girls were magnificent along the way. What great kids they were! Just love them! Priscilla was a source of peace, love, and family confidence.
There were tremendous needs that went unmet. In one sense, we never had enough, and yet, in another sense, we had each other, and therefore, we had everything. It was tough. Nothing came easy. Secretly, daily, I felt I had let my family down. Somehow, however, deep down inside, in a very deep place, I sensed that my direction and that of my family was secure in the midst of all the uncertainty. At one important moment along the way, I remembered Professor Keith Bridston at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary saying to me (long before) when I was a seminarian, "Underneath it all, Nibbe, I can tell you have a powerful sense of God's destiny in your life working in your behalf."
I became suspicious of what was happening---and not happening---as far as the Church was concerned. I contacted the local bishop. He was supportive. His words were a huge bandage wrapped around my wounded heart, "We've got to do something about you, Tom. We need you in the Christ's Church!" He suggested three locations to interview. We interviewed at Holy Cross. We definitely decided that Pacifica was the place for us. Pastor and people just seemed to fit. We stayed for eight-and-a-half years. We then accepted a call to serve at the Union Church of Lima in Peru. Four years later we returned to the States. Pacifica called us back again. We've been here for another twenty-five years up to the present.
So, am I holding on to a grudge against the Church folks for certain things that have happened---and things that didn't happen---practically forty years ago? No. Am I still hurting after making my poor kids and my beautiful wife suffer in those times? No.
(I could have returned to my old job at the U.C., Berkeley, but resisted the thought because of my call to ministry in the Lord Jesus Christ.)
I followed my vision, not based upon personal excellence or goodness, but rather, that promise the Lord wrote on my heart way back then and confirmed inside of me through all these years.
Sometime back I was reminding my oldest daughter, Ayesha, of those "horrible, terrible times" in 1982-83. Ayesha replied, "What terrible times, Dad? You mean when we used to pray together 'all the time' as a family for all our needs, sometimes, practically all day, because the needs were great...but the Lord provided according to our needs...and we knew He was the Great Giver...You played around with us...You were home with us every day...You did creative stuff with us all the time...We laughed together when we were supposed to cry...We totally depended on each other in the Lord-----Terrible times? What terrible times, Dad...?"
I don't know all the things that went through the hearts and minds of the members of my family...but I do know this about myself...I was too dependent upon the visible church and the leaders to provide a provision for us---God was right in there with us. He's the one who affirmed us and we discovered in the shambles of our situation who we really were, in Him! We needed to learn the way it happened.
Saint Paul said in Romans 8:28: "...and we know that in all things God works together for the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose..."
God is a gentleman. He will not force religion upon you...
If God seems not to be providing for your needs, it is because you are not letting him do so...He will provide according to His wisdom...and not yours...and it will be sufficient for all your needs. He wouldn't provide for you because of your fabulous personality, your great intellect, your good-looks, or your fantastic pocket-book. He will provide for you because He loves you...without condition. That thought will take some time for it to set. He loves you much more than you could ever be fully aware of. If He doesn't seem to provide for you, it's not His fault, it's your fault. Perhaps you are not aware of what great value you have to the Lord.
I had idolized my bishop in my seminary days and in my first years of ministry. I changed my denomination because of him and his leadership. In retrospect I think I regarded him more highly and liked him more than he liked me. He turned against me at one point, not remembering that I had told him two years prior that I would leave my parish after two years to prepare myself as a pastoral counselor. In retrospect, he had "black-balled" me...according to a reliable source. The lesson here is (was)---you don't put your ultimate trust in any mortal...presidents, senators, the Secretary General of the United Nations, archbishops, your pastor, especially your favorite uncle, or even your business partner.
That ultimate trust belongs in placing your confidence in God Almighty and only He. Nobody else. The Lord will never let you down. It will seem at times He has. You will become impatient at times. You will become untrusting. You will wonder if God even exists. You may even have to go through what the Nibbe family did. He will teach you how to live right---and confidently---no matter what the circumstances happen to be. What was true for my family in the 1980s goes for what happens in 2020, even in the midst of a world pandemic...you can always trust in the Lord! Everybody else in this life will ultimately let you down sometime or the other. Just shake it off. Forgive them and trust God. In the process you will grow spiritually....
"Forgive us our trespasses...AS WE...forgive those who trespass against us..."
Sounds familiar...these word have a ring to them...who was it that prayed these words...???
What the Lord has started in your life will be made complete within God's good time...without fail!
No half-hearted, doubtful commitments, please! Become a genuine follower of the One who is worthy of complete trust! Heartaches will follow those who ultimately trust other human beings.
"...being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ..." Philippians 1:6
It will not happen if you are comforted and coddled and babied time after time in a life in which you think you have control and you can do whatever you please! The expression is---Let go and let God! Once you let go of control in life, a dead-end, you need to let the Lord lead you through what may seem like one storm after the next. It's all part of the process. The Lord will prove His faithfulness when all has taken place!
These have been extremely trying times for us. I have kept your families and each one of you in prayer. We go back some time and love and appreciation has grown. We need to be there for each other. Thank you for your kindness in praying for my family in response. With the daily challenges we are all aware of--- the confinement and the pain and the loss of life---there are those precious moments that God gives us to experience the deep and rewarding things about living this life. We are grateful to the Lord that He has brought us thus far. We will continue to trust in Him. He is worthy.
P.S. Thanks for sharing this message.
Gracious Lord, we are grateful for your amazing message, meant for each of us, of profound inner peace and personal freedom under you, due to the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ! We don't deserve it, but because we have freely chosen to live under you and your eternal kingdom, and because of your amazing grace, we have confidence for this day and the assurance of eternal life in the world to come. We are your thankful people and we praise your holy name! Guide us into safe pasture and provide according to your divine plan. In the process may we be kind and loving to other human beings. In Jesus' name, Amen
Message - Reformation Day
For those who share "lives of faith" in the God of Israel, the 31st of October is not primarily Halloween.
He advanced in his learning to become a doctor of theology and a favorite professor at the university. He did not plan to become famous by doing so. His intention was to discuss and argue points of church practice and faith that would address great errors in the larger church, at least, in Europe. There was no greater scholar of the Holy Bible in his day.
"...for though we live in the world, we do not wage war the way the world does...the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world...on the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds...we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ..." 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
To accommodate pagan traditions within the Christian faith, Pope Gregory III designated the following day, November 1st, as All Saints' Day...so that a non-Christian holiday would be accompanied by something similar, honoring those who had died in the Christian faith. In 43 AD the Romans conquered the Celtic areas of northern Europe and imposed Rome's religion upon Celtic faith.
October 31st, called FERALIA, in remembrance of Roman dead, and November 1st, called POMONA, honoring the harvest of crops and human souls, were combined into an imposed festival for the Celts. One of the fruits of the harvest were apples. The custom of "dunking for apples" that we still do at Halloween was an ongoing favorite custom with the people.
There had been a multitude of remarkable believers before his time who desired reform in the Christian Church. Among them, over the years and decades, were Francis of Assisi, Gregorio Cortese, Reginald Pole, Gasparo Contarini, John Wycliffe, Francisco Ximenes, Erasmus Desiderius, Jan Hus, among others.
Hus was burned at the stake one hundred years before Luther. Their calling out of unacceptable teachings and practices had all ended in great persecution and death. John Wycliffe simply desired that his people have the Bible translated into the language of the people. Martin Luther was saved remarkably by his ruler, Frederick the Wise, and even more so, by the invention of the printing press. It is interesting for me that in this year of 2020 AD, Roman Catholic scholars of the period declare that the Reformation was necessary, but not Protestantism. Also, in our post-modern times, Pope Benedict XVI declared, "Luther was right!", a Roman Catholic Pontiff---more a scholar than a politician.
We have to see these times within the course of world history, not just the history of the Christian Church.
The basic period of time under consideration is from 1517 AD to precisely 1648 AD. Pause for a moment to consider the times...to wit..."Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492"...the New World was discovered by Europeans. Between these two dates, the entire world (from, at least, Ireland to India) at the time had fallen into disorder everywhere and an entirely new world order, system, and configuration came into being by 1648, and especially, within the year of 1648.
The Renaissance, the Reformation, the complete dismantling of the political landscape of Europe, and the establishment of an European empire in North America and South America was taking place. The Spanish and the Portuguese had established "spheres of interest" in the Americas and in the Asian subcontinent --- and as far away as the Philippines. Martin Luther had translated the Bible into German by 1545. The English Crown under King James I produced the first Bible written in the English language (revised) by 1611 AD (you guessed it, The King James Version). That, eventually, led to other events within nine years...the Pilgrims heading off in the Mayflower for Massachusetts, by 1620, as a result of that translation. The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in the New World on October of 1621. Although Columbus had been involved with African slavery as early as the 1490s, the first African enslaved persons arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619.
WHAT BASIC CHRISTIAN FAITH IS ALL ABOUT --- WHAT TRUE "CATHOLIC" FAITH IS ALL ABOUT
Meanwhile, the powerful idea of faith structure based upon one's personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ alone...the Holy Bible as the sole ultimate authority for believers...and the community of faith, the Church, not primarily an institution lording itself over the flock, but a loving community for guidance and instruction in the faith, became a model resulting from the original Reformation started under Dr. Luther.
"..The obscure monk in Wittenberg, Germany, Dr. Martin Luther had literally become world famous.."
After a little more than five hundred years, of course, things again have changed. Noticing that I wear a Lutheran clerical collar regularly in San Francisco, and that it looks different from a Roman clerical collar, I'm asked all the time..."Why does your collar look different somehow from a Catholic priest?"
I tell them that I wear a Lutheran collar because I'm a Lutheran pastor, but even more so, because I prefer it." The response is, "Oh, do you worship Martin Luther King, Jr.?" My comment, "No, I don't, but I admire him and I've been influenced by his witness to our common Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!" I continue, "You see, Martin Luther King's father was also a Martin Luther King, and his father, sensing that his son would be much like the Dr. Martin Luther of Germany way back in the 16th Century, named him after that great reformer." Again I continue to bear testimony, "I believe in the Triune God of Martin Luther King, Jr. --- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit --- I'll like to invite you to receive him, just as we have, as your personal Lord and Savior. There's no hitch and there is no obligation to do so...This is the best offer, I'll bet, you've received today!!!"
WHAT DR. MARTIN LUTHER TAUGHT AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT FOR ALL WHO ENBRACE FAITH
Please note that I am not a denominationalist. I do not declare myself to be aligned with or connected with the Christian Church for any other reason than IT IS THE TRUTH for me. When other elements enter into the picture that do not align with the Scriptures, I move on. When I present the theology of Dr. Martin Luther I don't do so because I am from a Lutheran background. I do so because of the scope and power of the material at hand as the man presents it. God gave him a powerful mind, but also an incredible ability to understand the insight of what was recorded in Scripture as DIVINE REVELATION. At the same time, I acknowledge that Luther was not a perfect man. I don't put him on a pedestal---Luther also had another side...but so do I. Therefore, I will focus in upon the great insights of the man because of his love of ...and giftedness in...interpreting the Holy Bible. It's a shame contemporary people don't know his anointed work.
Martin Luther was a person saturated with feelings of unworthiness. Like many of us he had a choice to make and he made it constantly. He could have focused on the good things about himself, or he could have emphasized the bad things about himself. He chose, as Darth Vader to focus in on "the dark side". [Pardon sneaking in a little "Star Wars" here.] At one point, his monastery mentor, Fr. Staupitz, directed him to get into the Scriptures, and in the process, Luther became a real master of Latin, and more importantly, Hebrew and Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament). As he began to master the text of the Bible, Luther recognized a recurrent theme in both Old Testament and New Testament. Let me show you what stood out in his heart and mind, being a person overwhelmed with feelings of unworthiness, also guilt and shame:
"...Abram believed the Lord and He credited it to him as righteousness..." Genesis 15:6. Luther thought to himself, so where is the emphasis upon earning the fact or the reality that you are actually 'right with God'..."
Don't you have to do something? Doesn't God require that you earn that status of being righteous?
"...the righteous will live by faith..." Habakkuk 2:4b. Luther notices two things about this book of the Bible and this obscure minor Hebrew prophet. First of all, this seemingly insignificant, rather short verse, becomes the "spring-board" for the entire theological framework of the New Testament. Second of all, once again, the emphasis is not upon "doing"...it's simply upon placing trust, not in what I can do, but what God has done for me. Okay...so Moses makes the point in Genesis...and now Habakkuk makes the point here...
But for Luther this was still not convincing enough...true students of the Bible cross-reference until the cows come home...I'm going to keep looking to make sure there is continuity here even into the New Testament.
(The question also came up...Are there really Old Testament and New Testament or just "one testament"?
It seemed then that "Marcion of Sinope" back in the 2nd century didn't get it right about getting rid of OT.)
Saint Paul's "Letter to the Romans" eventually becomes the center of Luther's understanding of Christian faith and our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. As he turns back to Romans 3:28, "...for we maintain that a person is justified by faith APART from the law..." Luther recalls a similar verse he had just read in Romans 1:17, "...for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith FROM FIRST TO LAST, just as it is written: '...the righteous will live by faith...'" First of all, Luther affirms that it is not about earning God's favor, but rather, as a human being, living in the assurance that when we place our faith and confidence in the Lord, we don't have to worry about falling short, no matter what may befall us. To Luther it was a fool-proof way of living a confident, happy, joyful life. Luther pauses and then remembers, "Hey, I'll be...that's found in Habakkuk!"
Somehow, down the line, in my life, I got the idea that when God the Father looks upon us...He's not going to see John's or Mary's or Tom's face...He will see the face of Christ Jesus in our face and say to us, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"
Yesterday and today were reported as being the most devastating in the months of the present pandemic.
I have missed you and I have missed worship together in these trying times. I leave you with this...
"I thank God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now...being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus...It is right for me to feel this way about all of you since I have you in my heart." Philippians 1:3-7a
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
"...the One who is in you is greater than the one in the world..." 1 John 4:4
Lord Jesus, by faith, we receive your unconditional love and acceptance in this time of world pandemic, this time of curtailment of activity and overabundance of hurt, and as well, great human loss, and we trust you to meet all our needs, and as well, those we pray with and those we pray for. We take authority over the Enemy, and in the name of Jesus, we take back the ground we have allowed Satan to gain in our lives because of our attitude at times in the midst of really tough days. Right now, we give this ground back to the Lord Jesus Christ to whom it rightfully belongs. We pray for abundant grace, patience, and peace. In your magnificent, holy name. Amen
I assume you're feeling much the same. I find myself lacking the practice of the faith disciplines I would have daily practiced in former years...a positive attitude...a good word to a partner, a neighbor, a friend, and even, an enemy. I've said things with these lips I really thought were behind me long ago. I've made up my mind that I'm not going to let the Lord take a "back seat" in my life after nine months of pandemic. Are you with me?
"...for everyone born of God overcomes the world...This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith..." 1 John 5:4
Imagine what those go through who don't have the Lord in their life. We don't really know when this trying time will decisively end, if ever, it seems at times. We frequently think of what Covid-19 does to our life every day...and of course what it could do. I keep thinking of the great multitude of coronavirus patients who die totally alone lest they give someone they love the virus. What a difference it makes, I would imagine, to have the Lord make that journey with you. Furthermore, we know what coronavirus can do...for a moment today, also, I paused to think of what Covid-19 can not do to women of faith and men of faith:
"...make every effort to add to your faith --- goodness, and to goodness, knowledge --- and to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance --- and to perseverance, Godliness, and to Godliness, brotherly kindness --- and to brotherly kindness, love...for if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ...but if anyone doesn't have them, that person is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that she or he has been cleansed from past sins... therefore, my sisters and brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure...for if you do these things, you'll never fall...you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ..." 2 Peter 1:5-11
As we sometimes fall into apprehension and fear, we wonder regarding the great things the Lord God is silently doing in our present-day world!
"...to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence, without fault and with great joy --- to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now & for evermore..." Jude 5:24-25
As you have loved me without condition, assist me in understanding and appreciating this human vessel you have come to save and fashion. Help me to come to a heart knowledge of you as I discover new things about myself. May I get to the bottom of things in my life and in my world. Amen
The message for this Sunday comes in remembering the recent confusion of a very smart and able gentleman who was surprised I would draw a remarkable distinction between the terms "religion" and the term "faith" and connect them up with the term "form" and the term "substance". One term deals with what we are able to observe in terms of human conduct and the other deals with the amazing undeserved love of God and how He works in our lives to bring about confidence in times of doubt and assurance in terms of our daily lives on earth and our eternal destiny in heaven.
Some distinction in terms of words seems important as you consider what brought about the message for today. I would put that distinction this way. Let me introduce the word, "form"...that's the way things appear to be...and the word "substance"...the thing that is essential for our being and well-being...
Way back when, indeed, years ago, when I was younger, I was looking for a way to express in words a concept of mind. I kind of knew what it was...what seemed to be like a door which needed to be opened, but remained closed. I thought I wanted to determine the difference between what is normally routine, work-a-day, and yet, necessary...and on the other hand...that which is essential, at the very heart of things...not only important to consider...but essential.
I really hate to admit it, but for a number of reasons, I spent a good deal of my life focusing in on "form" and much less, unfortunately, on "substance". I sense this is a problem for many, not only for me. It's easy for us to observe things with our eyes and hear them with our ears, but it's tricky most of the time to be able to conceptualize and visualize the reality of things unseen and and unheard.
Why was it that I wasn't able to identify what seemed "at the heart of things" for me? I seemed to be wasting away trying to figure things out. It was embarrassing for me. I thought I was smart enough. What was going on in my life that I couldn't come to terms with what I needed to know and be able to adequately communicate to others and for others?
At times I would say to myself, what is it I want to express about some distinction between one kind of emphasis in life and another. Finally it came to me. Form, rather than substance, had been controlling too much of my life...good hygiene...eat properly...go to work...you've got to rest when you get exhausted... all necessary things...but not all there is to life and well-being. Something was missed. Something essential.
I wanted to put my thumb on what it could be...I knew what was needed...a clarification of some distinct sort.
Yes. I came down gently and mightily on the term. Substance.
The "form" aspect in life is necessary...things one can see...the obvious things in life we have to do...but it cannot be the ultimate focus to tie the various components of abundant life together...
I finally put my finger on the answer...the notion of the "substance" of things had really always there... [taken for granted...an adopted child placed in a loving, Christian family...privileged...spoiled rotten...] having been provided by my family background...but I hadn't identified what it was...it was the foundation.
The Scripture came to mind...
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the assurance of things unseen..." (the profound definition of faith) Hebrews 11:1
Okay...the word "substance" in some translations does appear...that helped a great deal...I must have faith...but what about religion. Isn't faith and religion the same thing? Not really. One is based upon the notion that we trust the only Being worthy of being fully trusted...that is, God...we don't earn the things in life we hope for. We ask in order that we might receive...trusting in God's promise that He is worthy of trust. On the other hand, our best definition of religion we find in Micah 6:8, "And what does the Lord require of you? ...to act justly...and to love mercy...and to walk humbly with your God..."
Good spiritual stuff...but...
In religion, obviously, you must earn merit...do this...do that...don't do this...don't do that...in one sense faith and religion are opposites...though they connect up...nonetheless...religion is form...faith is substance...
Even though it is absolutely necessary, don't get caught up and focus only on "form"... what you can see...what is obvious...make it the point of your life to seek after "substance" in the midst of the "forms" and not get lost in them...use the "forms" (building, flowers, robes) but concentrate upon the "substance" of faith, the Lord! Form without the substance is a rabbit-hole...a great abyss...[Some extraordinary church folks are stuck there.]
Jesus suggested this as the most important verse in the Bible:
"...hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with your heart, and with your soul, and with all your strength and with all your might..." Deut. 6:4-5
This verse embodies the very essence of substance...everything else pales in the splendor of this verse.
In terms of spiritual matters, "form" can choke the life out of the "substance" of what we call, faith. Faith in this regard is the essential thing. Mere religion as well as the other important things of life, is still form, and needs to be brought to life, through radical focus upon substance, a personal relationship with God. Let the church building, the candles, the robes and gowns, the flowers, the altar area be...LET THEM BE...let them serve their purpose...but leave them where they lie in order to participate and bloom in substance...a personal relationship with the Almighty. Form is necessary, but not the heart of things. We need to have a church building, church property, church social occasions. So how would certain utilizations of form restrict the access to substance. One Bible notion of restriction to access would be worshipping images of God instead of appealing directly to God without the visual aids.
These days I have become greatly concerned, and maybe wrongfully so, with such focus in church life on who is going to be the next leader of the denomination, fighting to determine what kind of candles should be used on the altar, or who's going to provide napkins for the social hour. Let Christ Jesus be the leader. Let's see if we can use the old candles or do without candles for one Sunday. I'm going to commit to have coffee and donuts without napkins...and choose to focus on what we've learned from a good biblical sermon...
Now...don't get me wrong! Form gives us a place to begin. But we often stay there and don't move on. For all too many occasions, form has been the substitute for substance.
The train, the Gospel train, is faith. We achieve God's acceptance, not when we (in all circumstances) prove to be perfect, but when we "put on" the righteousness of God, through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
So what's the difference. Again, religion is connected with "do this" and "don't do that". Religion is connected with being good, being worthy of trust, and seeing that you don't live for yourself...essentially being a good person. We all strive for that, of course. The problem is...you and I are not perfect. We can try to live a perfect and ethical life, but we will fall short. (So we all try to do our very best to be the most ethical and compassionate person we can be...) I am so glad as I affirm that the essence of Christianity is that no perfect people will go to heaven. Now, how can I know that...? Because there are no perfect people! Thank you, Lord, for your provision of forgiveness for us...the greater the offense, the greater the mercy...and the assurance of an eternal home, not based on human perfection, but on trusting God's love.
My point is this. It's a tragedy when followers of God cannot discern the difference between form and substance when it comes to spiritual matters. It has brought about the Crusades instead of the profound example of Saint Francis and William Penn. It has brought about the "witch hunts" of the 16th Century rather than a profound sense of the Divine Community in Christ (Massachusetts). I thought today would be a great time to just share some thoughts out loud that I've kept inside. I want to thank the openness of the gentleman that I mentioned at the beginning who can figure out everything and anything, but this concept really had him confused and befuddled. Sorry if I bent your ear a bit today. Have a superb Sunday!
God bless you!
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
...dedicated to Warren, Jan, Jim, Anna and Mike in recovery...Kelly and Chad, Patricia in their loss...
"...but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, and good fruit, impartial and sincere...peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness..." James 3:17
"...we love because He first loved us...if anyone says "I love God", yet hates his brother or sister, that person is a liar...because anyone who doesn't love his brother or his sister, whom that person has seen, cannot love God, whom that person has not seen...and He has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister..." 1 John 4:19-21
"...there will be terrible times in the last days...people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God---having the form of Godliness but denying its power..." 2 Timothy 3:1-5
"...like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to Him, the living Stone---rejected by people but chosen by God and precious to Him---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 2:2-5
Okay, Lord, I praise you. I love you...I know you are there! I sense your presence and, yes, I love you, but yet...today I'm feeling alone as a human being among other human beings, and I am reaching out to you...
I'm fed up with artificial human relationships. I'm tired of hiding. Give me the courage to reveal who I really am, as you have revealed who you really are to me. I want the satisfaction of others knowing the "real me", and yet, loving me, and wanting fellowship with me. I sense you have called me to this hour...
Thank you for your Church and true believers who are committed to embrace imperfect human beings
like me...Lord, aren't we all the same? Understanding who we really are? ...and afraid to open up...?
Motivated, I'm starting out again today...risking disclosing who I really am to at least one person with whom
I feel safe...I'm letting go of my protective devices and risk being vulnerable---even though I've been taught and encouraged differently---even though I've taught myself to hide. I'm going to disclose who I am in a way that reflects Christian directness, self-responsibility, honesty, and self-love bestowed upon me by Christ.
We will know, Lord, our local church community will be stronger and more influential because we do so.
God...help me let go of my fears in regard to other human beings. Help me accept who I am, and help me let go of my need to be who other people want me to be. I know you will. I know that once I am committed to remaining pliable---I can remember that you, Lord, are the Potter and I am the clay. This decision will make me happier and make me feel genuine.
Thank you, Jesus, for loving me as I am. Amen.
The inspiration for this message is the result of a conversation recently with a dear friend I have known for years. I've shared one significant experience after the next with her over many years. We have been good friends and creditable ministers together. Recently she chose to tell me information about herself that she had kept from me for decades...and I understand why. I wasn't astounded by knowledge of the information she shared, nor was I shocked by her story. I felt so rewarded and so gratified that she had trusted me with the information. It was as if I had succeeded in fulfilling my intention decades ago of being accepting of others without condition. I call that empathy. In addition, I appreciation of her openness. It is the courage of genuine person wanting me to know. Isn't life just great? As I accepted her disclosure, I felt accepted.
Learning to gently reveal who we are is how we open ourselves up to love and intimacy in our everyday relationships. Many of us have hidden under a protective shell that prevents others from hurting us. It is so true. But, No! All too often we don't want to be that vulnerable. We don't want to expose our thoughts, our feelings, our fears, our weaknesses, and sometimes (even often) our strengths to others. Might I add, these days, when people will reject us discovering that we are meat-eaters or vegetarians, Californians or from the State of Utah (suspecting that we just might be Mormons), Republicans or Democrats, Roman Catholics or Protestants, Evangelicals or Jews, we can very readily hide within ourselves with good reason...
What can we do to break down the walls we ourselves have built?
We are often afraid others will judge us, that they will go away, or not like us---that they will cut us short.
We ourselves may be uncertain that...who we are...is okay. We don't really know how much of ourselves we should reveal to others. It is seemingly more difficult to vulnerable these days than ten years ago.
I've been there...and you have, too...being vulnerable can be outright frightening, especially, if and when
we have lived with persons who have abused, mistreated, or manipulated us...or didn't really appreciate who we are, giving us no sense of their self-esteem. Slowly...one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at a time, one year at a time...we can learn how important it is to take the risk of revealing ourselves, and begin to disclose who we are---our inner self---by bits and pieces. Sometimes in the past or recent past, out of reasonable fear, we've withheld information about ourselves, thinking it would help a relationship here and there...or would help others to like us more...and as we recall...
It proved to be a false supposition. The notion of self-fulfillment as we hide proves to be an illusion.
...GROW UP IN YOUR SALVATION... (Saint Peter---above) [...now what could that possibly mean...]
Yes, withholding who we are...doesn't help us...withholding is behavior that backfires on us. For true closeness to exist and flourish we need to be known for who we are. For us to love others unconditionally...to be reasonably content in a nurturing relationship we need to risk exposure with wisdom from above. We need to disclose who we are and let the chips fall where they may.
Our faces are nice to look at...our hearts are a treasure to embrace by others.
That doesn't mean---without having common-sense wisdom---we can tell everything to everyone all at once. I've had opportunity to notice that this particular approach to openness is self-defeating.
My response...just be yourself...there will be ample appropriate opportunities to "open-up"...and...it will be a double blessing, especially in the church setting...to others to know they don't need to hide...and often the opportunity for ourselves to open up.
So, we can learn to trust ourselves about who to tell, when to tell, where to tell, and how much to tell. I am so glad to be in my present church community this "openness" has been a blessing over the decades. That's one of the reasons we exist.
To trust that people will love us...and like us...exactly as we are...is a goal worthy of the pursuit. We can become frightened to reveal ourselves at times, but this will not be the case once we get into the habit of self-examination and healthy, balanced exposure. In any case it's the only way we can experience what we aspire to in relationships. To let go of our need to control others...their opinions...their feelings about us...is one essential key. The opportunity to share the truth about ourselves will come at just the right time. We will readily recognize it. God's timing is perfect. Our timing will become likened to the Lord's. We need to commit to come clean with ourselves and others. Authenticity. Transparency. I am ready. Are you?
What is the key to starting? What is the winning presupposition underneath becoming known to others?
TO LOVE GOD SO MUCH YOU WE ARE NOT SO CONCERNED ABOUT OURSELVES THAT WE LIVE IN CONSTANT FEAR OF BEING EXPOSED OR GET THE IDEA THAT WE ARE NOT WORTH THE EFFORT
Deuteronomy 6:4,5 --- The "Sha'ma" (I gave my youngest daughter this name.)
"Here, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one...
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength."
[Jesus of Nazareth (4 BC-29 AD) identified this verse as the greatest commandment in the Mosaic Law, the greatest verse, if you will, in the Bible. Why is this? What are you saying---I thought John 3:16 was. In a sense it is, but please note that John 3:16 wasn't yet written by the Apostle John until decades after Jesus' death and resurrection...we'd have to wait until about 85-90 A.D. for this verse to eventually appear.]
This is not a "religious verse", per se. You cannot step up to the level of this Spiritual wellness by being ethical and by doing good. This deep spiritual teaching goes beyond the ethical dimension of a religion of "do this" and "don't do that".
It's really not all about me hiding in the shadows of spiritual health and well-being anymore. Herein we establish our priority in life that will ultimately set us free to be authentic and known to all who come into our life.
Remarkably, like a plant which develops a blossom, we start to bloom and we learn to open up because the desire to do so rises up within us. Jesus is pulling for us mightily in the process. We prosper when the brilliant orb shines into our darkness and there is warmth that comes with exposure to the Son...
May this Sunday be especially good for you and those you love!
In many ways, we are so very blessed to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. The City of San Francisco was named after "Poverello"...the poor little man...none other than, Saint Francis (1182-1226). He was a man born into great luxury and wealth. He forsook everything to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in poverty and obedience to the Word. His father was not pleased. He brought Francis before the Bishop of Assisi to straighten him out. Francis took off the last remnant of symbolic wealth provided by his father, his clothing, and stood before the bishop naked. Looking toward his father he said, "Until now I have called you my father on earth. But henceforth I can truly say, 'Our Father, who art in heaven...'" The bishop provided a humble robe to Francis and he went on his way...wholeheartedly to serve Christ Jesus.
In this time period around 1205, Francis had a vision...it is recorded that the Lord spoke to Francis,
"Go, Francis, and repair my house,
which as you can see, is well-nigh in ruins."
The fabulous story of what God had done in Christ Jesus with yet another unlikely human being, touched with the power of the the Holy Spirit, boggles the mind. Francis, with incredible affluence and wealth, would have literally by comparison wasted his life in luxury. As it were, in forty-four years, with Christ working within him through the Holy Spirit, he was able to change the world. He is, as if alive, with us today...
Last night I had the privilege of talking on the telephone with a very Protestant, well-educated, well-endowed and also well-known friend of at least twenty years. He was concerned about receiving a book as a gift from his church upon the occasion of recovery from a fall. His concern to some degree was that Saint Francis was a Roman Catholic. I reminded him that there was no Protestant Reformation yet at the time, and that Francis, to me, was in the same category as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Jan Hus, John and Charles Wesley and John Knox. I think that impressed him. I hope this pertinent thought may impress you.
When Priscilla and I were serving at the Union Church of Lima in Miraflores, Peru, in the 1990s, those were the days of "Sundero Illuminoso" and great national upheaval, death, and destruction. Despite the enforced restriction imposed upon American citizens not to venture into Old Lima, I used to love to visit the Monastery of Saint Francis (circa 1540) right next to the plaza where Francisco Pizzaro, as matador, fought the first "Bull-Fight" in the New World. In the monastery, the first formal library in the New World was established in about 1542. Also featured are priceless works of fine art, classic paintings of Native-South American (Andean) masters (having been schooled by Spanish masters deployed to Peru in those days), fine sculptures, and priceless art objects, pottery, and such.
Among those works of art is a sculpture carved out of pure Nicaraguan cedar by one of the friars, a Native-American master. This masterpiece is located on the northeast corner of the second floor of the monastery. He had heard the story of Francis and the Pope. He decided, evidently, to make a statement in his artistic masterpiece. Now imagine this in your mind. He carved a relief of thousands of heavenly faces and angel wings in the background with a ragged human figure in the front sitting on a throne. There was another figure carved out at the bottom of the piece dressed elaborately in obviously fine robes with a clerical miter on his head crawling before the ragged figure and kissing his feet. This friar wanted to let
well-endowed representatives of the earthly church know what it would be like in heaven. Things would be turned completely around. The figure in fine robes was meant to be the pope. The ragged figure was meant to be Saint Francis in heaven surrounded by the heavenly host. The masterpiece, largely unheralded in our post-modern world, is one of the most meaningful pieces of fine art I have ever experienced. Many times in those years I'd marveled at the work, and thought of the outrageous sense of humor, as well as the tenacity and spiritual insight of this Native-American master. His work...a product of the sixteenth century...sending a definite message to all Christians in our twenty-first century Church...
Some Quotable Insights of Saint Francis [with insights]
"...all the darkness in the world can't extinguish the light from a single candle..."
[YOUR CONTRIBUTION MAY SEEM INSIGNIFICANT...IT DOES MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE...ALL WORK IN CHRIST IS REWARDED]
"...if you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men..."
[THE PERSONS WHO MISTREAT ANIMALS AND VIOLATE GOD'S CREATION WILL EVENTUALLY MISTREAT YOU]
"...the deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today..."
[BE JESUS IN WHAT YOU DO - AND IF IT BECOMES NECESSARY - TELL SOMEBODY ABOUT HIM]
"...vi volglio tutti in paradiso..."
(literally in English) [I WISH THAT EVERYBODY WOULD GO TO HEAVEN]
"...above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to His beloveds is that of overcoming self..."
[THE GREATEST GIFT WE CAN RECEIVE FROM GOD IS TO STOP CODDLING OURSELVES]
"...when we pray to God we must be seeking nothing---nothing..."
[WHY IS IT THAT WHEN WE ASK THE LORD FOR THE INCREDIBLE JOB WITH THE GREAT
SALARY, THE FANTASTIC, ATTRACTIVE PARTNER IN LIFE...AND NEW CAR...HE DOESN'T
SEEM TO LISTEN TO US...??? THIS RELIGION THING JUST DOESN'T SEEM TO WORK FOR US.]
"...we should seek not so much to pray...but to become prayer..."
[I'LL LET YOU CHEW ON THIS ONE FOR YOURSELF AND COME UP WITH AN IDEA OR TWO]
I am so glad for the conversion, the life, the deeds and the legacy of Saint Francis, touched by the
power of the Holy Spirit, to live a genuine life in Christ...a life of willful denial...a life of Godly love...
a life of personal acts and insights that cause us...(as true, genuine believers in the 21st Century to
live freely, modestly, compassionately, and confidently even during a time of pandemic and widespread abuse and upheaval of every kind in our world)...to follow the Lord Jesus and really live.
Let me close with a quote from Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians 10:3-5...
"...for though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does...the weapons we fight
with are not the weapons of the world...on the contrary...they have divine power to demolish strongholds...we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the
knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ..."
Have a terrific day and a fabulous week. Delight yourself in your relationship with the Lord and He will
give you the desire of your heart. Remember. There is no failure in the Lord. Trust Jesus!