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We Don’t Want You Here

Matthew 8:34  Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Does that “jar” you? A whole town is stirred enough to go see Jesus. They break away from their jobs, their daily struggles, important activities, whatever occupies their time and go into Jesus’ presence. Not a surprise; but then they “pleaded” with him, not just asked him, to leave. “We don’t want you here.

I think we are inclined to attribute that to the immediately preceding story where Jesus casts out demons and sends them into a herd of pigs who then run into the sea and are drowned. (I know I am.) We think he’s threatening their lively hood. But I wonder.

There is nothing to indicate that they were angry or went with negative intent. In fact, on the surface it seems to indication there was an attraction to him. But “when they saw him” everything changed–“We don’t want you here.” It seems so different from common reactions to him or what we would expect. But it should “give us pause.” When people encounter Jesus, all reactions are not positive. And a short time later, Jesus puts it in perspective: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble [fall away] on account of me.” (11:6)

 

Always Encouraging

Encourage one another daily. (Hebrews 3:13)

Since I attended the University of Iowa and spent more than thirty years of my life in Iowa, I was especially interested when Iowa played Duke in the NCAA basketball tournament some years ago. You see I have been a Duke fan for all my life. When Duke won the game I’ll never forget the reaction of some of the Iowa players. The thing that impressed them about the Duke team was “They’re always encouraging each other.” Not they’re great shooters or rebounders or ball handlers but they encouraged each other.

Encouragement is a powerful element for success in any facet of life. And nowhere is that more true than in the life of living for Jesus, being Christian. As you read about the early Christians in the book of Acts you get this refrain “they encouraged” one another.
Just one of many examples: “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by.”

Sisters/Bothers, God has made provision for Monday morning, for the discouragement that lurks around the corner, for the draining effect of the battle. It is encouragement. That is the primary ministry that we are to have to one another—“always encouraging.”

What God Offers That No One Wants

For you have been given…the privilege…of suffering. –Phillipians 1:29

Last week a young man in our community in his mid-twenties died suddenly and unexpectedly. Something like that raises questions which we can’t answer. But, for most people death, however untimely, can be accepted as part of the order of things.

Something much more problematic for those who believe in God is suffering. In fact we often try to deal with a loved one’s death by saying, “She/He doesn’t have to suffer any more. It has been said that Americans know only one stance toward suffering—“get rid of it.” Dr. Jack Kervorkian, who assisted dozens to die, said that he was helping end suffering.

Carmen Benson, in the midst of a long struggle said, “I can bear suffering for a little while, but after years of it—pain heaped upon pain, with never a day of respite—I find it just too much! Surely that cannot be God’s will for anyone!”

Is it just possible that our preoccupation with escaping pain, suffering run counter to God’s working in our lives and thus prevents us from maturing spiritually?

This is a delicate matter, a holy matter and we need to enter only in humility and caution. Benson wrote “Our minister spoke glowingly of all that suffering does to refine the character…. tender… compassionate. The only thing lacking was that he doesn’t do much suffering.”

No one in their right mind wants suffering. To seek it, for its own sake, a martyr’s complex is a sickness itself.

That being said, suffering is a part of life, even a Christian’s life. Oswald Chambers once wrote, “An average view of the Christian life is that it means deliverance from trouble. It is deliverance in trouble, which is very different.”

There is, of course, needless suffering—humanly caused, or that can be avoided, or healed by God’s grace. But the Biblical message is that suffering is a means of grace when faced in trusting obedience to God. Benson is right—“It is always God’s will to make us whole, but not to heal us physically [or to rescue us from suffering] —it is to cure us.”

Dave Dravecky was a young baseball pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. A cancerous tumor was discovered in Dave’s pitching arm. After a lengthy battle his arm had to be amputated. Dave and his wife, are Christians. He said, “Looking back, [my wife] Jan and I have learned that the wilderness is part of the landscape of faith, and every bit as essential as the mountaintop….Both places should bring us to our knees: the one in utter awe; the other, in utter dependence.”

Jesus attained His goal by suffering. Likewise, it may be said that our goal of spiritual maturity does not come without suffering. But suffering is not eternal. It does end. That is God’s promise to us.

Strangers in Town But Members of the Household

Now you are the people of God -I Peter 2:10b

Alfred North Whitehead once wrote: “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.”  That is when no one is looking, and not trying to impress anyone.

While that is true in a sense, it is certainly not the fundamental truth of the Christian experience.  Because as John Wesley said, Christianity is a social religion.  An essential and primary ingredient in the Christian experience is community.

In this letter Peter is not addressing “isolated individuals but a community. It is nothing less than the continuation of the OT “Covenant People”.  In this short passage Peter uses several terms for this community.  He calls them:

obedient children
temple
spiritual house
priesthood
race
nation
God’s own people

Even though strangers in the world, they do not loose their identity because they are members of a community. This community, which the New Testament calls the church is to provide the environment for growth and spiritual health. It is also to be the primary witness to God’s work in the world through Jesus.

Because we are strangers in a hostile world, we can only maintain our identity as Christians/survive in community.  This community gets its value and identity by belonging to God and its purpose by worshiping and witnessing to His excellencies.

Are you trying to go it alone as a follower of Jesus? If so, find a group of other followers and join them. Churches like Messiah will welcome you with open arms.

To Tell the Truth

The truth will set you free. -John 8:32

Have you ever thought about how hard it is to tell the truth in church. Surprised? Do you believe the church is the place of truth? Do you assume that unlike other institutions, places, and people the church is different because here we find the truth? Of course, the church is the custodian of truth, specifically the gospel truth. Of course the church is the place where you don’t expect people to lie to you, and most of the time they don’t.

So when I talk about it being hard to tell the truth, I don’t mean we tell lies to each other (though it’s not unheard of). Rather, it is how we often fail to think about or talk about the negative, the problems, the unflattering things. Of course some people see only negative and some who are never happy with anything. Some of them use every chance possible to point out shortcomings (real or imagined).

We are often guilty of trying so hard to “sell” our story, our church, ourselves to others that we distort the truth by only talking about the positive. Sometimes, we also hide unpleasant matters by “creatively” interpreting facts so that we maintain an upbeat atmosphere.

We sometimes “kid” ourselves about our own spiritual condition. We don’t express our real opinions because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or cause problems. We accept shoddy efforts because after all, they’re just volunteers.
Usually this is not done for wrong motives but because we have mistaken notions about protecting image and feelings. In some cases we just don’t think. I know that I’ve probably been guilty myself. I want people to feel good about the church, themselves and (I have to admit it) me. So I don’t notice or don’t mention anything that might prevent that.

Now some of this is simply using good judgment. For example you don’t write a brochure for prospective new people and talk about negative issues (You don’t mislead either). We see that the positives far outweigh the negatives, and rightly emphasize them to prevent a “negative spirit” from discouraging us.

The point of all this is that we need to learn to trust each other and God enough so that we can face real problems and issues that affect our ability to grow as disciples, to reach the unchurched and make all disciples. As a church we have a lot of strengths but like all churches we also have weaknesses. While I do believe we need to focus on our strengths, we also need to deal with weaknesses. Identifying them, acknowledging them, talking about them is never easy but necessary so that we can deal with them in constructive ways.

My prayer is that God will help us be honest with ourselves and speak the truth to one another in love.

Trust God, No Matter What

Even if he does not.-Daniel 3:18

Maybe you know the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Three young Hebrews were threatened with being thrown into a blazing furnace because they had not bowed to the king’s idol. Their answer was that God could save them. But they added, “even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Job put it this way “though He slay me yet will I trust Him.”

Yes, God can protect us when we stand for right, but even if he does not, are we willing to make the hard choices? Their story has a happy ending, but not all do. The king puts it in perspective. “Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the King’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve of worship any God except their own God.”

Starting Again

God’s kindness leads you toward repentance. -Romans 2:4b

            It happens all the time with children.  In the middle of some task they mess it up and you tell them to start over.  They’re telling you something and get it all confused.  So you say, “Just slow down and start at the beginning.”

Haven’t we all wanted to start over?  I wish I had it to do over.  But in life, we don’t get that opportunity do we?  To go back to square one is not an option is it?

            The Bible says it is.  God calls us, offers us an opportunity to start over, to start with a clean slate.

            It begins with something called repentance which means to change one’s mind, heart, life.  In the historic Christian communion service, participation is invited for those who “truly and earnestly repent of your sins and intend to lead a new life.”

            The trouble is that repentance doesn’t come easily.  Then President Bill Clinton, speaking to a Prayer Breakfast in 1998 put it in perspective.  He said, “I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.…For us, turning does not come so easily. It takes an act of will for us to make a turn. It means breaking old habits. It means admitting that we have been wrong, and this is never easy. It means losing face. It means starting all over again. And this is always painful. It means saying I am sorry. It means recognizing that we have the ability to change. These things are terribly hard to do. But unless we turn, we will be trapped forever in yesterday’s ways.” ^^Clinton’s quote ended with this prayer: “Lord help us to turn, from callousness to sensitivity, from hostility to love, from pettiness to purpose, from envy to contentment, from carelessness to discipline, from fear to faith. Turn us around, O Lord, and bring us back toward you. Revive our lives as at the beginning and turn us toward each other, Lord, for in isolation there is no life.”-Q

Repentance means “coming to self,” “turning”, or returning (from the OT).  In the NT it is to change one’s mind for the better, have a better mind.

            It not only is at the beginning of the Christian Journey but is an on-going necessity of the Christian life.  Matthew Henry wrote, “Repentance is a daily duty.”

            I am told in the St. Louis airport there is a large watch with hands that run backward.  Beneath it are the words, “Make Time Run Backward!”  If it were possible to do this and start again what a difference it would make.

           There is good news!  You can start again!  Turn toward God.