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