A Tribute to Father Lewis Glidden

A Tribute to Father Lewis Glidden

With much sadness in my heart and tears in  my eyes, I said goodbye today to a dear friend and brother in Christ, Father Lewis Glidden of St. Stephen the Martyr parish in Oakland, Maine.  When I served as an Anglican bishop, Father Lewis was a priest under my care.  I only met him a few years ago but came to know and love him dearly.

Father Lewis labored for the Lord for many years without thought of himself.  He had been able to get his church for a few hundred dollars.  A stately old church with a huge pipe organ that had formerly been the meeting place for a group of Unitarians, St. Stephen the Martyr parish had been sharing the space with the Unitarians and when the Unitarians disbanded they virtually gave Father Lewis the property.

The parish of St. Stephen was not large.  In fact, when the parish and Father Lewis came under my care there was only a handful of parishioners.  When I went to receive the parish and celebrate Mass with Father Lewis there were only 10 or so people in attendance besides ourselves.  In spite of the small number, it was a wonderful time.  The Lord blessed us that day.

Father Lewis was diligent to say Mass and have morning prayer even if no one showed up. He paid all the bills out of his own meager Social Security income.  The heating bills were tremendous in the dead of the Maine winters.  Yet Father kept the parish open.

Father Lewis had many health problems among which were a bad heart and cancer.  The cancer was in his lungs and had spread to his vocal chords.  Over the past year he had rapidly gone downhill.  I received a call this morning telling me that Father Lewis had been moved to hospice and that it was only a matter of days before the Lord would call him home.  I called Father Lewis afterwards and spoke with him for about 2o minutes.  He could only whisper.

I asked Father Lewis if he was at peace and he said all was well.  He said he knew that in just a matter of hours or days he would be home with the Lord.  He was excited about that. Father told me that he had been looking back over his life the past few days and saw many things he wished he had done differently or could have done better.  But, he said, as he was thinking of those things the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart and told him, “Lewis, you have been forgiven.  The Father has no remembrance of those things.”  Father Lewis said he decided that if those things were a moot point to the Heavenly Father then they were a moot point to him also.  He was at peace.

Father and I concluded out conversation as we usually did, by praying for each other.  I could hardly hear him but I know the Lord Jesus heard him loud and clear.  I did hear him ask the Lord to take the sadness from my heart and fill it with joy.  After we prayed I told Father that I would be asking him to intercede for me from time to time.  He assured me he would remember me at the Throne of Grace.  His parting words to me were, “Bishop Mark, know that when I go, I am going to pay you a visit from time to time.  You will know I am there when you feel my arm around your shoulders.”

It has been an honor and a privilege for me to know and love Father Lewis.  He has been a shining example of a faithful priest who labored in obscurity, known only to a few, yet fully known by the Most Holy and Blessed Trinity.  His reward will be great and he will soon hear those most joyous words from his Master, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.”

When I had visited Father in Maine, it was the dead of winter and when I got to his house the snow was up to my knees.  While driving me from the airport, Father got turned around and as he was trying to get on the right road he ran a red light.  I am currently a police officer and when he realized he had run the light he said jokingly, “Well, here I am a priest with my bishop who is also a police officer in the car with me and I go and run a red light!”  We have always had a good laugh about that moment.  When I prayed for him over the phone today, I asked the Lord to please do one thing and reprimand Father about running red lights.  In a whisper I could hear Father laugh.

Before I said goodbye to him, my last words to Father were, “I’ll see you again soon my brother.”  I miss you already Father Lewis, more than words can express.  I love you.  Thank you for being my friend and for being a prayer warrior on my behalf.  I will see you soon.

 

 

 

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My First Penance Service

My First Penance Service

I am going to depart from my usual exposition of Scripture to relay my experience at my first Penance Service since being received into the Roman Catholic Church.

My wife and I were received into the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday 2013.  I had retired in September of 2012 after serving as an Anglican priest, bishop, and archbishop. While I was the archbishop of a small continuing Anglican jurisdiction, I had gone on a two day private retreat to Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama (EWTN).  While there, I took advantage of going to confession on the morning of the second day.  (I know, I was not an official Catholic although I was in my heart.)  Experiencing some serious inner conflict, I needed to set some things right with the Lord.  I was floored by how the priest (Father Mary) knew the exact words of comfort to say to me in the confessional.

So we come to the present and last Monday I went to my first Penance service as a full-fledged Catholic.  I had been preparing for several days, going over what I needed to confess.  On the way to the church last Monday, I was praying and telling the Lord that I just wanted him to make me a good person, a good man.  (Often I have not liked the person I perceive I am.)  However, that desire is not a sin so why should I confess it to the priest?  I kept praying as I drove, “Lord, please make me a good person.”

I arrived at Church and sat in the parking lot, again praying that God, by His grace, would make me a good person.  I thought about saying something to the priest when it came time for confession but I finally decided I would just confess the sins I needed to confess and let it go at that.

The time came in the service to seek out a priest for confession.  I sat down and made my confession.  I was waiting for the priest to tell me to pray ten Our Fathers, pray the Rosary, or some other such penance.   And then, the Lord really showed me what he can do. I had not said anything at all about praying that God would make me a good person. When the priest gave me my penance, he said, “As it is the Lenten season, go and pray that the Lord would make you a good person.”

I have to tell you, my defibrillator almost went off!  I sat there stunned for a moment not sure if I had heard the priest correctly.  I left and immediately began not just praying to be a good person, but rejoicing that the Lord had put in the priest’s mind and words just what I need to hear.  It was confirmation that I was praying for the right thing.

In my Protestant days, I thought the Catholic idea of going to confession was ridiculous. After all, all I needed to do was pray to Jesus and confess my sins to him.  But, hearing the words of God through the voice of a priest, who without knowing what I had been been praying, give me that same penance, I realized in that moment that God had heard my prayers and was confirming to me that I was praying in accordance with His will.

The Lord speaks to us in many ways.  Sometimes it is by the still, small, inner voice of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes it is in the events of life.  Sometimes through the reading of Scripture.  And, sometimes it is through the comforting voice of a priest who, listening to the Holy Spirit himself, is moved to say just what we need to hear.

May God be praised!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, +Amen.

 

 

 

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Jesus Christ the Giver of Sight

JESUS CHRIST – GIVER OF SIGHT

John 9:1‑41

At the risk of sounding lighthearted, this chapter is probably the most humorous in the Bible.  Here we find the wit and humor on the part of the blind man towards the theological giants of his day.  Robertson says, “He tells the simple straightforward story of the facts relative to the opening of his eyes, sticks to it all the time, parries every effort to get himself tangled in his words, expresses his own opinion that Jesus is a prophet, refuses to call Jesus a sinner to relieve the Pharisees of their own theological embarrassments. . . stands by the crucial fact of his receiving sight at the hands of Jesus, playfully twits the Pharisees with the desire to become the disciples of Jesus, makes merry over their ignorance about Jesus, and finally argues conclusively to show that God must be with Jesus at any rate.”

We also see in this chapter a picture of spiritual development:

The man begins by speaking of a man called Jesus

Then calls him a prophet

Then says that Jesus is a worshiper of God who does God’s will

Then expresses a belief that there is a Son of Man

Then, when Jesus declares who he is, places full faith in Christ, and worships him.

Once again, we have another striking portrait of our Lord given to us here by the Apostle whom Jesus loved.  Because of his words in verse 39, we behold Jesus Christ as the Giver of Sight.  “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

I would like for us to consider three sections of this chapter.  We will overlook many of the details concerning the man’s confrontation with the Pharisees, and focus our attention upon the first and last parts of the narrative.

Let us think upon these points as we look at the passage:

  • The wonderful providence of God
  • The merciful work of Christ
  • The great responsibility of man.

First of all, we have in verse three, the wonderful providence of God.

Jesus and his disciples came upon a man who had been blind from birth.  To the disciples, this man presented a theological problem – Was he blind because he had sinned or because his parents had sinned?

It was a universal opinion among the Jews that all sickness, misfortune or calamity was the result of sin.  Some held that the soul of a man at death, because of sin, would be forced to pass into other bodies in order to be punished there.  Others held that infants could sin prior to being born, and consequently, deformity or disability at birth was punishment for that sin.  Others held that the punishment for the sins of parents was bestowed on their children.

Today, many people still have the conception that if a person is sick or ill in some way, or if some tragedy occurs, then the person must have sinned in some way.  Unfortunately, many people are sick because of sin.  Sickness and death are the results of the fall of man in the garden.  But, not all sickness and tragedy that we experience is a result of personal sin.  We often experience such things because of Satanic attack or because of the sins of others.  But, most people simply cannot understand that God will often allow sickness or trials in a person’s life in order to somehow bring glory to himself.

Jesus states that in the case of the beggar, the blindness was not the direct result of personal sin. Jesus is certainly not saying that the man or his parents were without any sin, but that sickness or disability is not always the result of sin.  In this case, God had permitted the blindness so that his glory could one day be shown both to and through the man.

Here then, is the wonderful providence of God.  The blindness has happened, not by fault of parents or child, but in the providence of God, so that the glory of God’s manifold mercies might be set forth.  It is part of God’s plan to adapt his mercies to the pitiful conditions among men.  He often permits sickness, disease, poverty, misfortune, and trouble to come in order that men might cast themselves upon his mercy, that men might prize his many blessings, and that a heart-felt gratitude would arise for God’s deliverance from the trials.

Instead of looking upon human sorrow as a theological puzzle, we should look upon it as an opportunity for the manifestation of God’s mercy.  Maclaren has written, “Do not make miserable men theological problems, but see in them a call for service.  See in them an opportunity for letting the light of God, so much of it as is in you, shine from your hands, and your hands move in works of mercy.”

If you are afflicted in some way, do not use it for an opportunity to question God and his love, look upon it as an opportunity for God to show forth his mercy.  God has, for reasons known only to him, ordained everything that comes to pass.  All things are by his appointment, and when the universe comes to an end and all his works are seen, we will feel and know that he has done all things well.

And when to that bright world I rise, And join the anthems in the skies;

Above the rest, this note shall swell: My Jesus has done all things well!

Secondly, let us look in verses 6‑7 and 35‑39 at the merciful work of Christ.

Our Lord looks upon this man with compassion.  The theological geniuses have often seen him and sneered as they passed by.  After all, he was a sinner who was only getting his just reward.  But our Lord, seeking to glorify the Father in all things, takes pity upon him and heals him.  The Lord spits on the ground and makes mud with which he coats the man’s eyes.  The man is not conscious of who Jesus is, but when told to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, he does so.  He does not question the strange means that Jesus uses, but simply trusts his kind benefactor.

The Lord chooses to work through means.  The clay had no healing power, nor did the water of the pool.  The source of healing is from the person of Christ himself as exerted upon by the power of God.  The reason for the instructions, I believe, is to test the man’s obedience.  Many want to be healed but few will be obedient.  Many want signs and miracles but they refuse to wholly dedicate themselves to obeying the revealed will of God as found in the Scripture.

Since this was the Sabbath, Jesus is accused of breaking it.  The man is brought before the Jewish council for questioning where he is asked many questions, some of which he does not know the answer to.  But, the blind man knows one thing for certain, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know.  I was blind but now I see!”

Jesus knows full well that this poor man has been “put through the wringer” so to speak, and seeks the man out and finds him.  He has already opened the beggar’s physical eyes; now he will open the spiritual eyes.

The man, when Jesus asks him about the Son of Man, exhibits the type of thirst and hunger that Jesus spoke of in chapters six and seven of this Gospel.  “Who is he, sir?…Tell me so that I may believe in him.” The Lord, in another and greater act of mercy reveals himself to the man by saying, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”  What a merciful act! The restoration of physical sight was a great mercy in and of itself; but, to have Jesus reveal himself to you as the Son of Man is an even greater mercy.

We cannot know the providence of God beforehand.  But, in looking back, we can see his hand at work time and time again.  As a blind beggar, the man was constantly aware of his needs.  Now, he is aware of a greater need.  Our Lord has been most merciful in both cases.  The pre-appointed events by the hand of God have led to this man’s salvation.  God has brought glory to himself through this man.

Thirdly, let us dwell upon the great responsibility of man found in verse 4, and verses 36‑38.

In this passage we see two basic responsibilities.  The first is found in verse four.  Here we see that the followers of Christ are to be at work doing the work of the Father.  Jesus said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.” We are to employ our time in doing the will of God.  The disciples, rather than looking upon the occasion as an opportunity to do the will of God, took occasion to present a theological problem.  So much of the church’s time is taken up with debates and issues that the real work of God is never accomplished.  People are hungry and in need.  People we work with need to discuss family problems.  The responsibility of Christ’s followers is to follow his example in doing the work of the Father, and in so doing, to see the Father glorified.

The second responsibility is found in the closing verses of the incident.  We are to use and exercise the knowledge of Christ that we possess, if we hope to gain more knowledge of him.  Maclaren writes:

            Are there any of you groping in darkness, compassed about with theological perplexities and religious doubts?  Obey what you know.  Do what you see clearly you ought to do. Bow your wills to the recognized truth.  He who has turned all his knowledge into action will get more knowledge as soon as he needs it.  ‘Go and wash; and he went, and came seeing.’

Finally, when the man gained a true knowledge of Christ, he not only believed, he also worshiped.  This is our supreme duty, to pay honor and respect to the one who has given us sight.  He looked upon us with compassion and opened our eyes when we were in such desperate need.  We owe him our total love and allegiance.

Are you spiritually blind today?  Pray to the Lord that he would remove the scales from your eyes and give you sight.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  +Amen

 

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Jesus Christ the Soul Winner

Jesus Christ the Soul Winner

John 4:1 – 26

Reader note:  the following is an excerpt from my book “Portraits of Christ” (edited for this post)

In our Gospel reading for today today, we see the Lord presenting his message of redemption and forgiveness to the Samaritan woman.  This time it is Jesus who is out and about, not on a planned door-to-door visitation program, but on a short journey, taking opportunities for evangelism as they present themselves in the normal course of events.  On this particular occasion, Jesus has left the region of Judea to go into Galilee and passes through Samaria.  At Jacob’s well he stops for a drink of water and there encounters the Samaritan woman who has come in the heat of the day to draw water.  We shall see a method in our Lord’s presentation in which he establishes a relationship with the woman, presents portions of truth to her, and ultimately reveals himself as both Giver and Gift.

Upon examination of this passage before us, we see that John has portrayed Jesus as the Soul-Winner.  Jesus is the perfect example of an evangelist.  Given the Church’s emphasis on the New Evangelization, it would do us well to consider this text and see from it lessons which can be applied in our own evangelism.

Initially, in verses four through nine, we see a dependent Christ.  Jesus says, “Will you give me a drink?” It is in this phrase that we see the first step in evangelism.  Jesus could have performed a miracle, could he not, and somehow drawn the water out of the well.  What a marvelous conversation starter that would have been.  In fact, being God, we should wonder that he is even thirsty!  Yet, this short request of our Lord reveals a principle truth, namely our Lord is totally dependent upon the Father.  We lose a great deal of meaning here if we assume that Jesus merely makes this request in order to strike up a conversation, or to “break the ice” so to speak.  The Lord, in his human identity, exercises total dependence upon the Father.  Jesus performed many miracles in which he acted on behalf of others.  Yet, concerning himself, he had consented to identify with humans in all aspects, including their physical needs.

How does this dependence relate to the situation at hand?  Jesus could have very well simply exerted his will and converted her without speaking to her at all.  In chapter two, Jesus exercised his will and the water changed into wine.  He who can change the nature of water can surely just as easily change the nature of the human soul.  Yet, he is content to be an instrument at the disposal of his Father.  He speaks and allows the Holy Spirit to do an effectual work upon the woman.

Here is the lesson and question for us – How many times do we witness or speak about our Lord to others without a really conscious sense of total dependence upon God?  Perhaps we try to make our words convincing, or we resort to tugging at the emotions with tearful stories.  If witnessing is not done with a total conscious dependence upon the Spirit, those things are useless.  You may say, “Well, such things do produce results don’t they?”  I would readily admit that they do.  But, I would be prepared to argue that usually the results are only movements of the flesh and not the results of spiritual regeneration.

Also notice here that our Lord does not immediately confront this woman with the need for repentance.  He does not immediately confront her with the fact that she is a sinner, or that she needs to be born again.  We do not have every word of Jesus’ conversations recorded in the Scripture and I think it is safe to assume that our Lord first established a positive relationship with this woman.  After all, he was a total stranger.  Then, as this relationship develops he begins to unfold spiritual truth to her.

I believe that the normal method of evangelism for most of us, and the easiest I propose, is to first establish relationships with people.  People must be aware that we honestly care about them.  We must show that our concern is with their spiritual welfare, not merely with adding some members to our parish rolls.  How many visitation programs and outreach programs really have the conversion of the sinner as their primary goal?  Most that I have seen are primarily concerned with getting people to attend a particular parish.  A person has truly become evangelistic when he or she can witness to an unsaved person without thought of whether or not that person will eventually attend his or her parish.

Do not misunderstand what I am saying.  Outreach programs are not evil if conducted properly, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to see your particular fellowship grow; something would be wrong if you did not.  The goal of outreach and visitation programs should be to meet the spiritual needs of people.  Those whom you visit should be encouraged to seek a parish that is faithful to the teachings of the Scriptures and the Church. The Lord may well lead them to your flock.

Forgive my excursion but the truth is sometimes painful.  Let us have the consciously dependent attitude that Christ had.  Witness with a total confidence in the sovereignty of God.  Do not place your trust in your ability to communicate or in your powers of debate.  Trust God and the working of his Spirit.  Build relationships with people by which you show a genuine concern for them.

Having established a relationship with the Samaritan woman, Christ begins revealing himself to her in verses 10‑19.  The conversation is centered on a drink of water, that substance which will satisfy a basic human need.  The woman is typical of all human beings.  All human beings look for those things that will adequately supply basic physical needs.  Our Lord uses the water as a means of pointing out a greater human need, the satisfaction of the spiritual man.  Herein is another lesson for us in our own evangelism.

The gospel is meant to satisfy spiritual needs, not physical needs.  To present the gospel as a cure-all or bandage for physical wants and wishes is a gross misrepresentation.  There is a great error in preaching the gospel as the “gospel of prosperity.”  When people see the gospel presented as the means by which they will become financially successful or the means that will keep them from being sick, it becomes something that they will accept purely for selfish reasons.  Physical needs must be continually satisfied.  Jesus says in verses 13 and 14, “Everyone who drinks this water (physical) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him (spiritual) will never thirst.”

God, out of his good pleasure, may well determine to grant physical wants and wishes for his children.  If so, they are the results of grace, not the reason for wanting or accepting grace.  A person will be saved from the terrors of an eternal hell as a result of believing the gospel.  But the desire not to go to hell should not be the reason for believing the gospel.  The desire for the water of life should be because it is what pleases the Creator; because conscience says that it is right to believe; because a person wants to be holy and righteous before a holy God.  Time does not permit me to go into this idea of selfish salvation here.

As the Lord begins to reveal spiritual truth the woman responds, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.” But, our Lord is not yet through.  The desire to possess the water of life, which he gives, is a necessity, but it is not the means to the end.  Her request is an admirable one but she must know more before she can receive that water which Christ offers.  In verses 16‑19, Jesus confronts her with her way of life; the fact that she has had five husbands and her present companion is not her husband.  He begins to show her that repentance from one’s sin is also necessary along with the desire to possess the water.

Again, we have another lesson for us any presentation of the gospel without a call for repentance is not a full presentation. Sinners must be told of the need for a change in their lifestyles.  Those things that are an abomination to God must be shunned.  One who is running away from the Creator must turn back towards him.  Oh the many who have wanted the water which will satisfy their thirst forever, but who are unwilling to turn from their sins and transgressions.  The full offer of the gospel includes the call for repentance.

Continuing to reveal himself, Jesus realizes that this Samaritan woman will have problems with spiritual truth offered by a Jew and therefore he reveals the universal nature of the gospel to her in verses 20‑24.  The woman wondered earlier how Jesus, being a Jew, could have anything to do with her, a Samaritan woman; especially a woman whose reputation was not of the better kind. Our Lord shows her that salvation is from the Jews, that is, the Messiah or Redeemer will come from the Jewish nation.  Yet, he also shows that worship of God is not dependent upon a particular mountain or temple.

Salvation originates with the Jews but it is an all-embracing gospel.  It is a gospel for the Jewish Pharisee as well as the Samaritan peasant woman; a gospel for those who worship in Jerusalem as well as those who worship on Mount Gerizim; a gospel for those under covenant law as well as for those under natural law.

Finally, the Lord presents himself as both Gift and Giver.  The woman has an understanding of the Messiah.  Notice that her understanding is much different than that of the Jews.  The Jews were looking for a conqueror, a King who would come and destroy their enemies and set up a physical kingdom.  But the woman says about the Messiah, “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  As the final revelation about himself to her, Jesus answers, “I who speak to you am he.” Jesus shows that he is the Messiah and that he has just been explaining to her what is necessary in order to become a part of the kingdom.

As the Messiah, Jesus is both Giver and Gift.  He gives the gift of living water to those who are truly thirsty.  The living water is of course the gift of eternal life.  Spiritual life is found by believing upon the Lord Jesus.  He is the well that springs forth ever abundantly.  The whole summation of the encounter then is that nothing else will suffice to satisfy the longings of the spiritual being in a person other than Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Giver of living water, the Giver of eternal life.

In presenting the gospel we must so give our presentation that the hearer will have a sense of need, have a conviction of Christ’s ability to satisfy that need, and have an assurance that Christ desires to bless with his love, mercy, and forgiveness.  Jesus Christ must be presented as Giver and Gift.

Jesus Christ is portrayed here in vivid detail as the Soul-Winner.  From this passage we who are believers learn the need for our total dependence upon God in witnessing; the need to establish relationships; that no presentation of the gospel is complete without a call for repentance; that we must present Christ as available for all classes and races of people without exception; that our primary goal is to see people converted; that our presentation must contain those elements which will allow people to see their need and to have a conviction of Christ’s ability to save and of his desire to do so.

If you are without Christ, if you have never placed your faith and trust in him, you can see from this passage what is necessary for you to do. You must first sense your need for spiritual satisfaction.  You must have a desire to have Christ satisfy that desire.  You must take stock of your life and repent of your sins and confess them to God asking his forgiveness.  And, you must be convinced that Christ is willing, ready, and able to save you if you trust in him.  May God grant us grace from his Word.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  +Amen

 

 

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Look Up There!

Look Up There!

Hebrews 10:31-39

Someone asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.”

There was a man who in a time of business recession lost his job, a sizable fortune, and his beautiful home. To add to his sorrow, his precious wife died; yet he tenaciously held to his faith — the only thing he had left. One day when he was out walking in search of employment, he stopped to watch some men who were doing stonework on a large church. One of them was chiseling a triangular piece of rock. ‘Where are you going to put that?’ he asked. The workman said, ‘Do you see that little opening up there near the spire? Well, I’m shaping this stone down here so that it will fit in up there.’ Tears filled the man’s eyes as he walked away, for the Lord had spoken to him through that laborer whose words gave new meaning to his troubled situation.

My beloved brothers and sisters, I want you to look up there this morning.  There is a day coming when our Lord Jesus Christ will appear in the eastern sky to gather his elect from the four corners of the earth.  The dead in Christ are going to rise victorious and will be caught up with those of the redeemed who are alive and we shall go together to meet Christ in the air.  We shall be ushered into that HeavenlyCity, the New Jerusalem.  John, the beloved Apostle, while in exile on Patmos saw that day and he wrote of it when he said:

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Revelation 21:2-4)

Many of you have gone through severe difficulties in your life.  There have been deaths of parents, children, relatives, and close friends.  There have been many illnesses among you ranging from cancer to heart disease, pneumonia to back problems.  Many have suffered the loss of a job, or the waywardness of a son or daughter.  Look up there today.

The writer of Hebrews has been encouraging his readers to stand fast in the faith.  If we were to start back at verse 19 we would find that from verse 19 through verse 39 of chapter 10 there are two main parallel truths with a severe warning between them.

The first truth can be summarized as follows:

Jesus Christ, as the Great High Priest, has cleared the way into heaven for us by his once for all time sacrifice for our sins.  Therefore, we can draw near to God with a full assurance of faith.  We have both the Holy Spirit who cleanses us inwardly and we have the seal of the baptismal waters which have cleansed us from the stain of original sin.

The severe warning can be summarized as follows:

If after Christ has made the sacrifice we deliberately go on sinning, specifically by rejecting that sacrifice, there is no other way to be saved and come to God.  Therefore, we can only expect judgment.  And if disobedience to the Law of Moses under the Old Covenant required punishment by physical death, imagine how much more severe punishment will be if you willfully go on sinning and reject Christ.  Not only will you physically die, but you will die spiritually as well and spend an eternity separated from God where there is weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.  The Scripture tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

The second truth can be summarized as follows:

When trials, suffering, heartaches and persecution come, do not lose heart by losing confidence in God and Christ.  Look up there!  Jesus is coming again.  There is going to be a reward for what we have undergone here in this life.  Keep the faith.  Do not be shaken.  The High Priest is on the Throne!  The righteous live by faith.

Given all of his troubles and tribulations, Job, a righteous man, was able to say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last day he will stand upon the earth.”

From days as a Protestant and Anglican, I can tell you that we were not good at  teaching about the concept of redemptive suffering.  When we get sick we want to be healed immediately.  When we lose our job we want God to provide us one the next day.  When we have a financial need we expect it to be met by 5:00 pm.  And when we do not get what we want when we want it, we begin to doubt the goodness of God.

Our first thoughts are often something like this:

  1. Doesn’t God hear me anymore?
  2. Doesn’t God care about me?
  3. Don’t I have enough faith to “pray through?”

The writer of Hebrews tells his readers in verse 36, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”

In other words, we must stand firm by faith during the tough times.  We must remember to look up there.  It does not mean that we do not pray.  We certainly do and we keep on doing so.  It does not mean that we don’t ask to be healed or don’t ask for a new job or a meeting of finances.  We should certainly do so.

But we also need to remember that suffering is redemptive in nature for the Christian.  Remember the workman chiseling away at the stone?  He was shaping it down here so that it would fit up there.  God is shaping us down here so that we will fit up there, in the Heavenly City.

I want you to place yourself at the foot of the cross for a moment and as Jesus hangs there in bloody agony I want you look up there at the Savior.  Jesus is suffering.  He was not enjoying himself.  He was not having a good time.  It was sheer pain and agony.

Jesus endured the cross.  Peter writes concerning Christians who suffer persecution for doing good, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  If Jesus suffered, what makes us think that we are immune from it?  We are being chiseled down here so that we might fit up there.

So how can we endure and hold fast to our faith when the answer to our prayers is delayed in coming?

By making an offering of our suffering to God.  By “offering up” our situation to the Lord.

Each Christian is a priest before God.  While there is indeed a ministerial priesthood, we also believe in the priesthood of all believers.  What does a priest do?  He offers up sacrifices.  Just as your parish priest offers up the sacrifice of the Eucharist, so also every Christian is to be offering up sacrifices.

Later in the Epistle to the Hebrews the writer says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.  Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God”  (Hebrews 13:15-16).

When you are in a bad situation, it is often very difficult to praise God.  Right?  So do it!  It becomes a sacrifice.  It costs you something to praise in times of trial, illness, financial difficulty, or death.  It costs you time and possessions to do good for other people and to share with them.  These are sacrifices that please God.  You become a priest offering sacrifices before God.

You can also offer your situation on behalf of another.  Let me give you an example.  In Colossians 1:24, St. Paul write some very interesting words.  Listen to these very carefully:  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…”

Did you grasp those words?  Paul says, “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…”  Wow!  Paul was suffering for the sake of the Church.  The Church was reaping a benefit from his sufferings.  Have you ever thought about the fact that the Church might be reaping a benefit from your suffering?  That is mind-boggling.

Let’s take the death of a loved one as an example.  Those of you who have experienced it know how bad it is.  You know how deep the hurt and grief is.  As a Christian you also know the grace and comfort that God gives.  In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 St. Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

When you suffer through the death of a loved one, you receive comfort from God.  When someone else experiences the death of a loved one, you are able to be a listening ear for them or a shoulder to cry on.  You are able to empathize with them and put an arm around their shoulder and offer comfort.  Your suffering benefits the Body of Christ.

Well, you ask, how can my backache or this ear ache benefit the body of Christ?  Let me give you a very practical way.  You are in prayer and you are praying, “Lord, please heal me.  Please take this pain away.  I hurt so badly.  I’m about to pull my hair out because of the pain.  Heal me.  But Lord, while I am waiting for you to heal me and while I am looking up there enduring this suffering, I offer you this suffering on behalf of my unsaved daughter.  Please accept it as a spiritual sacrifice on her behalf.”

Now, I want to ask you, if giving food to the poor, sharing your clothes with the needy, or offering God the praise of your lips are considered sacrifices that are pleasing to God, would he not also consider your suffering as a sacrifice when it is offered up to him on behalf of the Body of Christ?

My Beloved Brothers and Sisters, look at yourselves for a moment.  You are a rough stone in the hands of the Master Workman.  Consider the pains, sufferings, and heartaches you have been through in your life.  Consider the trials for a moment.

Now, shift your eyes and focus and look up there towards the Heavenly City.  That’s where we are headed.  Praise God.  All of what has happened to us is taking off the rough edges and shaping us to be fit for up there.  Jesus, the Master Stone Mason is making you and me become more like him!

Remember, our Great High Priest has cleared the way for us.  Do not lose hope.  Do not be downcast.  Persevere with faith even when the road ahead seems dark and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.  Offer up your sufferings to God as an offering on behalf of the Body of Christ or on Behalf of a specific person.  And give God the sacrifice of Praise.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  +Amen.

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Lessons From the Transfiguration

Lessons From the Transfiguration

Matthew 17:1-13          Mark 9:1-13          Luke 9:28-36

 “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him”

The Gospel readings before us bring us to the Holy Mountain where our Lord is transfigured in the presence of his three closest disciples.  Some background is needed so that we understand the significance of this glorious event.

1.  Although the world had misconceptions about Jesus, His disciples had reached the conclusion by this time that Jesus was the divine Messiah and had publicly confessed that faith a few days before at Caesarea Philippi.

2.  Based upon that confession (“Thou art the Christ”) Jesus begins to show his disciples that he was to be a suffering Messiah; that he must die.

3.  At the revelation about his death, the faith of the disciples waivers.  The disciples wanted a living, conquering Messiah, with a visible, earthly, triumphant kingdom and jurisdiction.

4.  When Peter protests, Jesus rebukes Peter, saying that his thoughts are satanic in nature.

5.  Jesus has shown the disciples that as he must suffer, so also the disciples will have to take up their cross and follow after him.  Believers will suffer persecution in this world.  No man can truly be a disciple of Christ without absolute self-renunciation.  To gain one’s life is to lose one’s soul but to lose one’s life is to find his soul.

6.  Christ then makes the announcement of his second coming in power and great glory for the final judgment to reward every person according to their deeds.  The great question will be, “Did you lose your life for my sake?”

The transfiguration event is recorded in three Gospels with slight variations.  The three disciples chosen to accompany the Lord were Peter, James, and John.  These three, according to Mark 5:37, had alone witnessed his power over death when Christ raised the daughter of the synagogue official from the dead.  It was these three disciples who would accompany Jesus to the place of prayer in Gethsemane when Jesus would, in agony, wrestle in prayer.  These three would also be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection.

Most likely, all three Gospels that record this event are using reports from Peter.  Matthew was not present at the Transfiguration and James was dead long before Luke began interviewing eyewitnesses for his Gospel.

Luke records that these four men went to the mountain to pray.  This event most likely took place at night since Jesus had a habit of going away for prayer at night when he could be away from the multitudes.  That the event took place at night is also supported by the fact that Luke records that the disciples fell asleep at some point.  Luke tells us that the Lord was engaged in prayer when the transfiguration event took place.

After the transfiguration, Matthew and Mark tell us that the Lord told the disciples to keep quiet about what they saw.  Luke shows the result of that command.

There are three great supernatural events that take place at the transfiguration:

1.  The transfiguration of Jesus

2.  The appearance of Moses and Elijah

3.  The voice of God coming from the cloud

The transfiguration of Jesus

The radiant glory of the Lord at the transfiguration is both an internal and external radiation of light.  In fact, the words used in Mark’s account show us that every separate portion of Christ’s clothing was glowing.  His clothing was whiter than white.  The Phillips translation reads, “…his clothes became white, dazzling white, whiter than any earthly bleaching could make them…”  As one man has said, “…his whole body becomes luminous, as if it were a human electric jet…”.

The word used by Mark to speak of the radiant glory of Christ has the following meanings in other Greek literature and classics:  “bright brass” in Ezra 8:27; “flashing sword” in Nahum 3:3; and as “sunshine on shields” in 1 Maccabees 6:39.

When the Lord initially came to earth, he made a humble entrance, a little baby lying in a manger.  But now, at the transfiguration, the disciples are given a brief glimpse of the great, divine glory and majesty of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The sovereign of the universe transfigures before their eyes and the disciples behold his great and awesome glory.

Peter would later write, “We were not following a cleverly written-up story when we told you about the power and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ – we actually saw his majesty with our own eyes.”

The appearance of Moses and Elijah

Moses represented the law.  The law says, “You must die!  We must die!  We cannot be holy and righteous.”  The law says that the substitute for sinners must die.

Elijah represents the prophets.  The prophets foretold of the suffering Messiah.

These two great representatives of the glorious plan of redemption come and speak with Christ about his death and become proof for the disciples that Jesus will himself have to die.  The era of bondage has ended.  The law with its restrictions and penalties has passed away.  The Old Covenant has been replaced by a better covenant, a lasting covenant.

In the immediate context of the event, Moses signifies a look back to the Exodus, when God redeemed his people from slavery.  Elijah signifies a looking forward to the second coming of Christ and to the eternal redemption that awaits the people of God with that event.

B.H. Carroll speaks of what the conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah may have sounded like:

Suppose Moses had said this:  “Jesus, I died on Mount Nebo.  No man on earth knows where my bones are resting.  Unless you die, that body will never be raised, never, never.”

Suppose Elijah had said:  “Jesus, I escaped death as to my body.  I was translated.  I was carried up to heaven, and am now enjoying in both soul and body the blessed glories of that eternal world, upon your promise to die.  That promise must be redeemed. I am in heaven on a credit – the credit is on your promise to pay.  You must die.”

The voice of God from the cloud

The interview and meeting is concluded.  Moses and Elijah prepare to leave.  Peter is frightened and as was his habit, he had to say something.  Caught up in both the glory and terror of the moment, Peter cries out, “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here!  Shall we put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah?”  Peter did not want to lose the awe of the moment.  He was an eyewitness to one of the greatest moments in recorded history.  He wanted that moment to continue.  He was on the mountaintop with Jesus and did not want to come down.

However, Peter’s statement compromised the uniqueness of Jesus the Messiah.  The disciples were not to stay on the mountaintop and continue to experience the overflowing magnitude of the moment.  The disciples must of necessity go down from the mountain and bear witness of the Beloved Son of God.  Jesus is the climax of Biblical revelation and as such, the world must be told about him.

As Peter makes this statement, the cloud symbol of God appears, as it often did in the Old Testament.  The fire cloud comes down and surrounds Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in its light.

God’s voice booms from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!”

The significance of the voice of God cannot be underestimated.  We are to pay attention to divine revelation, not to human opinion.  Moses had told the people in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites, and you must listen to that prophet.”  The voice of God from the cloud is the confirmation that Jesus Christ is indeed the True Prophet, the Chosen Servant, and the Son of God.  And the command is clear – “Listen to Him!”

The disciples shrink back in terror and lie on the ground as dead.  They cannot bear to look upon the overwhelming cloud of fire and are struck as if by lightening when God speaks.  The visible glory of Deity brings terror.  They stay on the ground until receiving a reassuring touch from Jesus that all is well.

Hebrews 1:1-2  -  In days gone by, God had spoken to people through Moses (or the Law) and through the prophets.  The announcement by God at the transfiguration is that those days were now over.  They were not to be any longer.  The old covenant was being replaced by a new and better covenant.

The Apostle Paul says that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God.  Christ is supreme over creation.  Christ is the creator of everything.  Christ has a timeless existence.  All things are held together by the power of Christ.  Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the first fruit of the promised resurrection.  The entire fullness of God dwells in Christ.  It is through Christ that reconciliation with God the Father takes place.

Is it no small wonder then, that the voice of God thunders from the cloud and says, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.  Listen to Him!”

Lessons to learn 

First, the true test of doctrinal belief is not how we conduct ourselves in the glory of the moment when we have experienced the presence and blessing of God in a great way, but rather, how we act and react to the world around us once we have left the mountaintop.  At some point in time we have to leave the mountaintop and go back to the real world we live in and practice our Christianity and discipleship.  Our Christian lives cannot and will not always be a life of a spiritual high.  To try and make them such is not feasible and in fact, it is impossible.

Second, if we want more knowledge and revelation of Christ, we must be receptive to what has already been given us.  Perhaps this is why the Lord took Peter, James, and John with him.  They recognized Christ as the Messiah and therefore Christ chose to reveal more of his glory to them.  When we look back upon the occasion of the transfiguration and the background of the days before it, we realize that the three disciples were given the privilege of witnessing the sight because they had first confessed Jesus as the Christ.  I would ask each of you today, have you confessed Christ as Lord and Savior.  If not, why delay? 

Just as the command came from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him” so also that same command comes forth today, “here is Christ, the beloved Son of God.  Hear him!  Listen to him!”

Come to this Jesus, this Messiah, this Savior and Deliverer, this Redeemer and Friend.  Find rest in him for your soul.  Make this the day that you commit yourself to being Christ’s disciple.

Third, unless the Lord comes, each one of us will walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Each one of us will one day stand at the doorstep of our great enemy – death.  However, the transfiguration gives us the hope of a better day, a brighter day, a day of glory and splendor when there is no more suffering, no more pain, no more death; a day when we will get to meet all of those who have been on the glory train with us; a day in which the curtains of heaven will be drawn back and we shall behold the Sovereign, Holy, King in all of His glory; a day in which we will fall prostrate before God, not out of fear and terror but to worship him, bless him, praise him, and thank him for his great mercy and grace.

Fourth, this event calls for a deeper and abiding dedication to the Savior upon the part of those who claim to be Christians.  What kind of Christians are we?  What kind of self-denial do we practice?  Do we faithfully bear our cross to the point of persecution?  What kind of decision do we make concerning profit and loss when it comes to our souls?

Carroll:  “We … know that the majority of church members are walking on the edge only of practical Christianity; just on the edge of it.  Oh, the value of the spiritual power that will come upon all who will utterly decide the question – who will truly say:  “I am God’s all over.  He is Lord of all my time, and all my money, and all my life.”

We must commit ourselves to praying that the glory of God would rend the heavens and come down, that the fire cloud of God would be over and around the Church.  Will you, as Christ’s disciples, commit yourselves this day to praying for the conversion of lost souls, for revival in God’s church, and for a deeper spiritual walk with Christ?  And, finally, will you commit to praying for each other as we walk this journey called life that we would be holy and pleasing unto Jesus, and that we would persevere in the faith to the end?

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  +Amen.

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Yes, There is a Hell

Yes, There is a Hell

 Matthew 5:21-22, 29-30

I wanted to interject a message today on the subject of hell.  I am not sure that we can fully appreciate the subject of heaven unless we know what the alternative is – hell.

The person who talked about hell the most was Jesus.  In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount he mentions it five times.  Maybe he did so not only tell his followers how to live, work, and pray, but also to “scare the hell out of them” so to speak.

In Scripture the place of the dead is known as Sheol in the Old Testament and Hades in the New Testament.  Sheol was the Hebrew word and Hades was the Greek word which simply referred to the place of all the dead, both righteous and unrighteous.

Later, Sheol or Hades came to be known as the place where the ungodly went to reside after death.  Paradise, or the Bosom of Abraham, became known as the place where the righteous went to reside after death.  (Let us save the discussion of Purgatory for another time.)

There is another term in the New Testament that we must understand.  It is the word “Gehenna.”  Gehenna literally means “Valley of Hinnon.”  Why is Gehenna translated as hell?  In the Old Testament, in the Valley of Hinnon, the people worshipped the false god, Molech, and sacrificed their children to Molech by burning them on an altar. (2 Chronicles 28:3 and 33:6).  The Valley of Hinnon was also the place where Jerusalem’s waste was deposited. It is where garbage was burned.  It became associated not only with fire but also extreme defilement.

Thus, Gehenna became the term for hell, the place of eternal torment of the ungodly who knew not God or His son, Jesus Christ.

We live in a day and age where hell is not often preached about.  People today want a feel good Christianity.  A man once told me he did not want me preaching about sin.  He said he came to church to be made to feel good, not guilty.  People today have the “It’s all about me” syndrome.  I’ll worship God and give to God so that I can get, get, get from God.  Don’t tell me about hell.  Tell me how good things are and how good I can be.  Tell me how wonderful of a person I am in God’s eyes.  Don’t hurt my feelings.

Let me just list some objections about there being no hell:

  1. God is a moral God.  Therefore to punish someone for eternity is vindictive and immoral.  God simply cannot be like that.

Heaven and Hell have nothing to do with God being a “moral” God.  They have to do with God being a righteous and holy God who has commanded men and women everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel or else suffer the consequences.

2.  There is simply no way that committing a finite sin can merit infinite punishment.  So I fell off the edge of the cliff a few times in my life and did something bad.  There is no way a loving and forgiving God would punish me for eternity because of those few times.

My friends, it is not the few times that is the issue.  It is the life of continued unrepentance and the life of unbelief in Jesus Christ that merits eternal punishment.

3.  The pains of hell that Scripture describes are barbaric, crude, primitive, and just plain horrible.  There is no way God will do that stuff.

That is not really an objection – it is simply an accurate observation.  In the Marine Corps there was a sign at recruit training that said “We never promised you a rose garden.”  I can imagine that sign posted at the entrance of hell.

  1. Won’t the people in heaven be sad if they know their loved ones in hell are suffering?  There can’t be a hell.  It would destroy the happiness and joy of heaven.

One man has said, “God [will not] let grief blackmail eternal joy”.  There will be no grief in heaven, no sorrow, no weeping or remorse.  The thought of hell will not cross our minds.

5.  God is love.  There simply cannot be a hell.

Many places in the Scripture tell us that God loves us.  We are his children and he is our heavenly Father.  He forgives us when we confess our sins.  He receives us with open arms when we come to him after going astray.  But the same Bible that tells us God loves us also tells us that there is a hell that awaits the unrighteous.  We cannot accept one as truth but ignore the other.

Finally:   What is hell?

Based upon a literal interpretation of Scriptures hell is indeed a place of eternal torment by fire.  There is constant weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  It is a place of utter and extreme torture.

There is another train of interpretation that says these are figurative words to describe what it will be like to be mentally tortured for eternity for a person who is separated from God, Jesus, and loved ones, with no thought of ever being able to be rescued.  It is the hell of a person who relives over and over and over all the opportunities they had to come to Christ in this life but they laughed it off or put off for another day until it was too late.

Whatever hell may be like, I know these things for sure:

  1. It is going to be sheer torture.
  2. It is going to be a place or state of unending mental anguish.
  3. It will be a crowded place.

The best thing I know about hell is this:  because I have put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, and completely rely upon his mercy, grace, and forgiveness, I do not have to go to hell!  I am going to my heavenly reward to that mansion that has been built for me to dwell in with my Lord and all the saints forever and ever.

Where will you spend eternity?  In this Lenten season make today the day of your salvation.  Repent.  Return to the sacrament of confession.  

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When Jesus Interrupts Your Plans

When Jesus Interrupts Your Plans

Acts 9:1-22          Luke 5:1-11

Many of us like to drink coffee.  A lot of the time after we make a pot of coffee we simply throw the used coffee grounds away.  But as some of you may know, there are actually several good uses for used coffee grounds.  You can:

  1. Compost them.
  2. Sprinkle on the ground around plants before watering for a slow release of nitrogen.
  3. Put a ring of used coffee grounds around a tree when planting and it may help to deter ants.
  4. Mix them with soil before planting houseplants or making a new garden.
  5. Dump them on top of the soil in the pots of houseplants. They’ll discourage mites and other small bugs as well as enrich the soil. Don’t overdo it for container plants, though, because used grounds contain salts.
  6. You can put them around strawberries and the strawberries will be big & flavorful. Hydrangeas, an acid loving plant, will benefit greatly from coffee grounds. Evergreens thrive on having grounds spread around their base. You can put coffee grounds around any acid loving plant, like blueberry bushes.
  7. You can put damp (not wet) coffee grounds on icy steps and sidewalks. The damp grounds stick to the ice, creating a safer surface for walking. There is no damage to the wood deck or sidewalks. Just keep in mind to clean your shoes or boots thoroughly before you track brown spots all over your carpet when you come inside.

When I was little I recall that my grandfather always threw out his coffee grounds out by the fence under a blackberry bush behind his house. He called that spot his worm bed.  Whenever we needed worms to go fishing, we would always go out and dig up that worm bed and it would be loaded with worms, night crawlers, and grubs.

Many times I would come home from school or when I was out of school during the summer late in the afternoon I would ask my Mom if I could go over to Grandmom and Grandpop’s house and see if Grandpop would take me fishing.  They lived close by and I could either walk or ride my bike to their house.  I would go over and wait for my Grandpop to get home from work.  As soon as he got out of the car I would immediately interrupt any plans he may have had for the evening and ask him if he would take me fishing.

At the time, I gave no consideration as to whether or not he had a hard day at work, or needed to mow the lawn, or just wanted to stay home and relax.  I just wanted to go fishing.  More often than not, Grandpop would tell me that after supper we would go fishing for a little while.  So while he was getting ready for supper, I would go dig up the worm bed and collect the bait.  Some of my fondest memories from childhood are the times I spent fishing with my Grandpop.

In the Scriptures before us today, we have the accounts of several men whose lives were interrupted by God or by Jesus and who were given the task of going fishing.  In the book of Judges, Gideon was minding his own business going about his work of threshing wheat when the angel of the Lord came to him.  The angel gives Gideon a simple task to carry out.  Gideon was told that he is to go forth and save the nation of Israel.

Imagine the shock that Gideon must have initially felt upon hearing that.  Talk about an interruption to your plans!  Go save the nation Gideon!  Gideon was going to have to fish for some men to help him.  He was going to have to find those men who would be strong and who had the courage for battle.

Peter, James, and John were minding their own business running their small fishing enterprise.  They were struggling along to make ends meet.  On one particular night they had been out all night and had not caught a single fish.  So the next day they apparently decided to just take the day off.  Maybe they figured that they just needed to relax and collect their thoughts.  Maybe the thought that if they just stayed off the lake the fish would forget about them and come back to their feeding grounds.  They may as well make good use of their time so they wash their nets.

So there they are minding their own business when Jesus comes along and interrupts them.  Jesus gets in their boat and they cast off a little way from the shore while Jesus sits down and teaches the people.  After the lesson, Jesus tells Peter to go out into the deep water and put the nets over the side for a good catch.

Simon was the professional fisherman; Jesus was not. The disciples were not fishing with a fishing rod, reel, line and hook, but a fishing net. Already, Simon was addressing Jesus as “master.” Peter will do as Jesus asked.  Peter’s heart caught the love and spiritual authority of Jesus, so much so that Peter would act against his better fishing senses and go fishing again, even though he had caught nothing all night. He may have thought to himself, “Jesus is a good religious teacher but not much of a fisherman.”

Well, you know the story.  The catch of fish is so big that the boats become overloaded.  When Peter realizes the miracle that has occurred he falls at Jesus’ feet and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  And then Jesus tells him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”  The implication here is that Peter will be an instrument to catch so many people that the number will be uncountable.

Peter, the Fisherman.  Jesus interrupted his life and look what happened.

Saul of Tarsus was traveling on the road to Damascus one day.  He had already approved of the persecution and death of Stephen the Deacon.  Now he was on his way to hunt for any more of these so-called followers of the Way.  He was going to hunt them down like dogs, bind then in chains, and haul them back to Jerusalem where they could be put on trial and put to death.

Suddenly, a flash of light comes from heaven and he falls to the ground.  He is blinded by the light.  A voice comes to him from heaven.  It is the voice of Jesus.  Jesus has suddenly without warning interrupted Paul’s plans.  There is a new plan for Saul who will now be called Paul the Apostle.  There is a new mission.  Instead of hunting down the followers of Jesus to bring them to death, he is going to fish for the followers of the evil one and bring them to life.

What will he use for bait?  Paul will use he message of the Gospel.  It will be the message that he told to the Corinthians when he said, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter,and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and lastly he appeared to [Paul] also, as to one abnormally born.  For [Paul was] the least of the apostles and [did] not even deserve to be called an apostle, because [he] persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God [he was what he was], and his grace to [Paul] was not without effect.

Interruptions, interruptions, interruptions.  It is amazing what happens when Jesus interrupts a life.

It was Saturday night, of Thanksgiving weekend, and the Cocoanut Grove was packed. Waiters were setting up extra tables to handle the diners. The overflow from the dining room surged down a narrow stairway to the Melody Lounge. This dimly lit basement bar offered a South Seas ambiance, with artificial palm trees, driftwood, rattan and a ceiling draped in blue satin. The only illumination came from behind the bar, supplemented by low-wattage bulbs hidden in the palms. Even this was too bright for one young man. He reached up, unscrewed a bulb and settled back in his date’s arms. Like many others there, he was in uniform. It was 1942; the U.S. had been fighting WWII for nearly a year. Dr. Vincent Senna was having dinner that night in the Grove and was paged because one of his patients had gone into labor. Grumbling, Senna rushed to the hospital in time to deliver the baby…and save his own life in the process. Because after he left, for still unknown reasons, the Cocoanut Grove burst into flames, and over 490 people died in the smoke and flames. The interruption that ruined his evening also saved his life!

An interruption, and a saved life.  An interruption, and a changed life.

Has Jesus interrupted your life?  Perhaps he has done so more than once.  As you look back over the course of your life, consider for a moment the divine interruptions that have occurred.  Consider how your life has been changed.  Consider how that on one day you were without Christ and without hope, and then, suddenly, Jesus interrupted your life and your were transformed. You had hope, you had faith, you had purpose, your life had meaning, and you possessed eternal life.

When Jesus interrupts your life, something happens.  Perhaps there is the conviction of a sin you were not aware of, or knew of but you had neglected to deal with it.  Perhaps someone was brought across your path that you had been avoiding and now the time had come to deal with a situation.  Perhaps a change of vocation or calling to ministry took place.

One thing we can be sure of my brothers and sisters is this – Jesus will interrupt our lives many times.  He is always coming into our lives to correct, change, mould, and shape.  Jesus interrupts us to better us, improve us, and to chip away at our hardness of heart.  Jesus interrupts to soften us, to transform us into his likeness, and to bring someone across our path who also needs to hear the message of the Gospel.

The question is then, how will you and I respond to the interruptions?  Will we see them as opportunities?

I am sure that my Grandpop would have many times rather had time to himself instead of taking me fishing.  But I like to believe that he saw my interruptions as opportunities to spend time with me, have fun with me and build a relationship with me.  He knew we would not be together forever.

Perhaps during this Lenten season we will find Jesus interrupting our plans with opportunities to perform the corporal works of mercy.  Maybe he will interrupt us as the Holy Spirit brings to mind sins that need to be confessed.  How will you and I respond to these divine interruptions?  May God give us the grace of the Holy Spirit so that when Jesus comes to us, we willingly respond to his most gracious interruptions.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  +Amen.

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Restoring the Years

Restoring the Years

Joel 2:21-27

I hate bugs.  Some folks are fascinated by them but to be honest they creep me out.  Now some bugs are okay like praying mantis, lady bugs, and grasshoppers.  But most other bugs I just can’t stand.  I was in my car some time ago when I felt something on the back of my head.  I reached up to see what it was and brushed it.  Down into my lap fell this monster of a bug.  To me it looked like a 747 airliner.  I about jumped out of my skin.  It looked to be about 2 feet long and about 8 inches wide.  Actually, it was about an inch and a half long with wings and had a hard shell on it.  I brushed it onto the floor of the car and it soon met its Creator.  I obeyed the Biblical injunction to take command of the earth and subdue it.

The prophet Joel is telling about a plague of locusts upon the land of Israel.  The people of God had forsaken him and once again turned to their wicked ways.  In verse 13 of chapter one the Prophet calls for a time of repentance upon the part of the people.  He calls for a period of fasting and prayer.  He pronounces that the Day of the Lord is near.

In other words, the judgment of God is coming upon the people.  Destruction is about to fall upon the people because of sin.  These are words that people today in our society do not want to hear.  But they are as true today as they were in the days of Joel.

People have forsaken God.  They have gone the way of their own desires.  They have run after idols of their own making.  The Day of the Lord is near and the wrath of God is coming.  Warning signs are everywhere but no one takes heed.  Calamities are always attributed to something else – to global warming, a widening hole in the ozone layer, the erosion of beaches, or some other explanation.  No one wants to see the hand of God at work trying to get peoples’ attention.

Now please do not misunderstand me.  Any calamity is terrible.  Any loss of life is regrettable.  And I am not saying that every time something terrible happens we should say it is the judgment of God on people.  But I am saying that the Day of the Lord is near.  I am saying that God is not only a loving God but also a judging God.  He is a God who desires repentance on the part of a sinful people.

There is no fear of God any longer in our society.  The Prophet Joel in the beginning of chapter 2 says, “Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near.”  But today as in times past, people continue on day after day with no thought to their sins and to their rebellion against God.

The Prophet goes on to speak of the locusts.  He describes them as being like a mighty army of warriors, like soldiers on a mission.  They come in hordes.  The walled cities cannot keep them out.  They devour everything in their path and lay the earth to the ground as a wilderness.  The Prophet closes his message of the coming wrath of God by saying, “For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?”

Once again Joel calls for a time of fasting, prayer, weeping, mourning, and returning to the Lord, saying, “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

The Prophet tells about the goodness of the Lord in bringing order out of chaos, prosperity out of poverty, and restoration out of ruin.  He says these beautiful words in verse 25:

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army which I sent among you.

The Man of God tells the people of Israel that if they would repent of their sins and turn to God, God would restore to them everything that had been taken from them in the plague.  It would be as if the plague had never happened.  In fact, there would be a great abundance of harvest and wine.  Moreover, in due time, the Lord would pour out His Holy Spirit so mightily on all people and there would no longer be any class distinctions or race distinctions or sex distinctions.  There would be visions and prophesy. We know now that that day occurred on the day of Pentecost and the Apostle Peter quoted Joel in his sermon on that day.

I want to take this Scripture and bring it down home to us at a closer level, particularly as have begun the season of Lent.  I want to ask you this question:  Has your life been attacked by the locust?  You may be asking yourself what I mean by that.  Let me explain.

Have you lost time in your life because you have wandered from the Lord?  Where are you spiritually today?  Are you spiritually dry?  Has sin made your life a barren wasteland? Perhaps you have no devotional life and the only real attention you pay to the Lord, other than a short prayer hit and miss during the week, is on Sunday morning at Mass.  My friend, if that is so, the locust has attacked and is laying siege to your soul.

What about your marriage?  Is the locust tearing it apart? Have anger, resentment, or bitterness come to your marriage like a swarm of locusts?

Beloved, the promise of God is that he is able to restore the years that the locust has eaten.  Perhaps you once felt a call to some type of ministry but you pushed it aside and the locust came in and devoured that desire.  You still feel the urge at times but now think that you cannot be of much use to God.  The Lord is able to restore the years that the locust has eaten.  Maybe the ministry will be different that what you once had in mind, perhaps it will be much better than what you once had in mind.  The Lord is able to restore the years that the locust has eaten. 

What has the locust eaten in your life?  Maybe it is a friendship that was lost because of a disagreement that was over something really petty but blew up into something more than it should have and the locust has eaten that friendship.  The Lord is able to restore the years that the locust has eaten. 

What has the locust taken from you that needs to be restored today?  Perhaps it is simply the joy of your salvation.  Maybe you just aren’t happy any more as a Christian?  Maybe the Christian life just doesn’t seem worth it.  The Lord is able to restore the years that the locust has eaten.

It’s a matter of repentance.  It’s a matter of returning to the Lord with all of your heart and soul. This is what Lent is all about.  Lent is a time of repentance; a time of seeking restoration between us and our Savior and between us and other people; a time of forgiveness and refreshment; and, a time of both being shown mercy and also showing mercy as well.

Why not let today be the day of restoration in your spiritual life?  Repent of sin and ask the Lord to restore the years that the locusts have eaten. 

There is an old gospel hymn which says it best:

I’ve wandered far away from God, Now I’m coming home; The paths of sin too long I’ve trod, Lord, I’m coming home.

My soul is sick, my heart is sore, Now I’m coming home; My strength renew, my hope restore, Lord, I’m coming home.

I need His cleansing blood, I know, Now I’m coming home; O wash me whiter than the snow, Lord, I’m coming home.

Coming home, coming home, Nevermore to roam, Open wide Thine arms of love, Lord, I’m coming home.

Throughout this Lenten season let the Lord restore and refresh you.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, +Amen. 

 

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Watch Out For The Landmines

Watch Out For the Landmines

Matthew 5:13-20

Our Gospel passage is found in the familiar Sermon on the Mount.  Our Lord has given us what we commonly call “The Beatitudes” as guidelines for being joyous and happy within the Kingdom.  The beatitudes appeared to be foolishness to the world’s way of thinking.  We certainly know that they were alien to the Pharisees’ way of thinking and Jesus now addresses the Pharisaical approach to righteousness in the passage before us.

The Pharisees believed that the Torah, the Law, contained God’s plan of redemption and that by strictly keeping the Law they would eventually usher in the Messianic age and the Kingdom of God on earth.

The Pharisees treated God’s Law like a fortress.  The Law was not to be breeched.  It was not to be broken, trampled on, handled lightly, taken for granted, misused, or in any way disobeyed, because in so doing, the Messianic age would be delayed.  So in order to protect the fortress of the Law, the Pharisees put up a barrier around the Law.  They began to add hundreds upon hundreds of interpretations to the Law so that every possibility of breaking the law might be covered.  In time, these interpretations became petty regulations that then became explosive landmines, so that everywhere the Israelite stepped, he or she was in danger of “blowing himself up” so-to-speak.

The Israelite constantly lived in the shadow of “Don’t do this, don’t do that; don’t touch this, and don’t touch that; don’t go here and don’t go there; don’t eat this, and don’t eat that; only travel this far on this day; only help a person on these days,” and so forth and so on.

After awhile, the keeping of the Law with all of the accompanying rules, regulations, and interpretations, became the focus of religious life, rather than the ministering to the sick, the poor, the outcast, the needy, and the hungry.  Religious life became a hated obligation and duty rather than a labor of love and devotion.

And then one day, a young rabbi named Jesus from Nazareth comes on the scene.  While keeping the Law, he strolls through the minefield without a care, breaking one rule and regulation and interpretation after another as he healed the lame, the blind, the deaf, the sick, and raised the dead.  He even appeared to condemn the Law as not being worthy to be followed, as he talked about the Kingdom of God in a new light and gave new mandates for Kingdom life.

In fact, this new rabbi said that it was actually possible to be joyful while serving God and that it was possible to find happiness in the Kingdom of God.

Notice if you will two things that were to differentiate Kingdom members from Law-Keepers:

First, Kingdom members are to be out in the world, not staying apart from it.  (V. 13-16)

Disciples of Jesus are to be out in the world as opposed to shutting themselves off from the world so that they do not get themselves tainted by sin.

The Pharisees cut themselves off from the people who needed them because they were afraid of making themselves ceremonially unclean.  They were afraid that by getting out among the people they might inadvertently step on some “landmines” and blow their foot off or worse and thereby make themselves impure.

However, Jesus says that his disciples are to be more concerned about being salt and light in the world.  We are to bring the light of the Gospel to those in darkness so that they can see the pits they are about to fall in to.  We are to bring the Gospel in to the world so that the lost might taste and see that the Lord is good and that his Kingdom is to be desired.

The Law of God as given through Moses was intended to be a light to the people.  But the Pharisees had so contorted and twisted the Law that it was anything but a light.  It was so convoluted that it actually darkened people’s hearts and minds.  Jesus says that his followers are to be the light.  As Jesus was the light that came into darkness, so also his disciples are to take the light of the Gospel into the world and by the example of their lives show forth the light of the glory of God.

Notice in these verses that people will see our good deeds and give praise.  The Pharisees liked to blow trumpets and make announcements when doing good so that people would notice them.  There is to be none of that by Kingdom members.  We are to go about our lives, living out the values of the Gospel, living out the Beatitudes, and people will naturally see the light of Christ in us and good will result and the praise will go to God, not to us.

Second, the righteousness of Kingdom Members must exceed that of Law Keepers (V. 20).

Jesus says that he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, not do away with them.

First, Christ fulfilled the Law by his teachings: both by restoring to the Law its proper meaning and true use, and by revealing the right way in which the Law may be fulfilled.

Second, in His person: both by performing perfect and perpetual obedience unto its precepts, and by suffering its penalty, enduring death upon the Cross for His people.

Third, in us, in the elect: by putting faith in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, so that we believe and trust in Christ who fulfilled the law for us, and by giving us the Holy Spirit which imparts to us a love for God and his standards of right conduct.  The Holy Spirit also gives us the ability to keep the moral laws and commands of God.

Jesus did not do away with the Law.  He fulfilled it and he re-defined it.  His life, death, and resurrection became the fulfillment of the Law.

The orientation of the new covenant is to Christ and the cross, not to Moses and the tables of stone. 

Stan Key has said,  “Christ, you see, is not only our righteousness, in whom alone we are justified before God. But he is also our sanctification, our complete redemption. We are raised from the dead by Christ our Savior and transported out of the broad way that leads to destruction, into the way of His commandments, the way of life. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, from which, as a new principle, we live. The law of God, therefore, is written on the very tables of our heart, and is impressed upon our very being. It has become, in truth, the perfect law of liberty, in which we desire to walk. It is that which Christ has fulfilled, and which He also fully expounds as we gather from Matthew 5…  We no longer stand at the foot of Sinai; but we live after Christ. For that reason when we consider the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” we also discuss Christ’s explanation of that as including hatred and anger. We do not confine ourselves simply to the letter of the Ten Commandments. Rather, we seek to know their depth and breadth as the law of love which God requires of us who are His.”

So as Kingdom members, we exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees when we live our lives by the Spirit of the Law and not by the letter of the law.  The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.

In closing, let me make some practical applications from this passage.  There are several ways I could approach practical application but I will choose just one route.  Let’s compare Law Keepers with those who properly understand the New Covenant:

Law Keepers:

1.  Very legalistic – Don’t do this, don’t do that – if I don’t do these certain things than I am holy.  Often suffer from scrupulosity

2.  Very judgmental and very disapproving of others

3.  “It’s my way or the highway” attitude

4.  The smallest transgression becomes a “landmine”

5.  Not happy people, often pessimistic

6.  Slow to see the hand of God at work

7.  Just not gracious people

New Covenant:

1.  Have a spirit of liberty and freedom

2.  Accepting of others and willing to mingle

3.  Understand that their way is not necessarily the only or best way (this is not to say that someone can just believe anything they want or spout heresy)

4.  Doesn’t make a mountain out of a molehill

5.  Optimistic

6.  Sees God at work even when He does not appear to be working mightily

7.  Gracious

May God pour out his spirit within us so that our righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.  May we be the salt and light we are called to be as Christians.

 

 

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