Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sermon for August 15, 2010

What Baptism Did You Receive?

As we celebrate the baptism of London this morning, I wanted us to reflect a little more on what it means. Congregationalists have a long history of sprinkling water on babies. Other traditions do it differently. For instance, a young son of a Baptist minister was in church one morning when he saw for the first time baptism by immersion. He was greatly interested in it, and the next morning proceeded to baptize his three cats in the bathtub. The youngest kitten bore it very well, and so did the younger cat, but the old family tom cat rebelled. The old cat struggled with the boy, clawing and tearing his skin, until he finally got away. With considerable effort the boy caught the old cat again and proceeded with the “ceremony.” But the cat acted worse than ever, clawing, spitting, and scratching the boy’s face. Finally, after barely getting the cat splattered with water, he dropped him on the floor in disgust and said: “Fine! Be a Congregationalist if you want to!”

As we think to our own baptisms, let’s listen to the story of a baptism from the book of Acts.
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers.” Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked them.
“No,” they replied, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
“Then what baptism did you experience?” he asked.
And they replied, “The baptism of John.”
Paul said, “John’s baptism called for repentance from sin. But John himself told the people to believe in the one who would come later, meaning Jesus.” As soon as they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. (Acts 19:1-7)
Congregationalists also have a long tradition of fine preaching. Another story is told of a young preacher who had just announced to his congregation that he was leaving to accept a call at another church. He was standing at the door after the service and greeting people when one of the elderly saints approached him, her eyes swimming with tears. She sobbed, “Oh pastor. I’m so sorry you decided to leave. Things will never be the same again.” He took her hands in his and most graciously replied, “Bless you, dear lady, but I’m sure that God will send a pastor even better than I.” She choked back a sob and was heard to reply, “That’s what they all say, but they keep getting worse and worse.”

How do you handle it when you keep hoping for something better in your life but it never seems to come? How many times have we settled for something less than we really want or something less than we’ve been promised? I think the people in today’s reading may have felt the same way. Ephesus was a trade center for the Roman Empire. The people of the city had a spiritual core. The city was home to the temple of the goddess of nature, Diana, which ranked among the seven wonders of the ancient world. So, Ephesus was constantly filled with religious worshipers, tourists, and traders from all over the Empire. In this cosmopolitan center, Paul finds twelve followers of the teachings of John the Baptist. They have not heard about the death and resurrection of Jesus, nor have they heard about the giving of the Holy Spirit. Let’s recall the message of John the Baptist. He says, “I baptize you in water for repentance. But he who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not even fit to remove his sandals; for he himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Men and women flocked to John make a visible demonstration of their need for cleansing from sin. They carried with them the word of hope that the Messiah was coming to do more. Now we meet twelve disciples of John who had no knowledge that the Messiah had come. They were still hoping for something better in their lives. Paul noticed that something was missing in their experience with God. Their hearts had been prepared to receive Christ. They knew the promises, but they had not yet come to a place where they experienced the fullness of God.

Have you ever found yourself in the same situation? You know the message of God’s love. You’ve heard the promises over and over again. But something seems to be missing. I talk to a lot of people who feel that they have not found any real spiritual satisfaction. They say, “Whatever it is that has the power to satisfy me truly and deeply, I have not found it yet.” Maybe you are frustrated because you know that God has more abundant life for you than you are experiencing. Maybe you have experienced great tragedy in your life and need to know the fact that God’s promises of comfort are true. Perhaps you are standing broken and bewildered in life and you don’t know which way to turn. Maybe you are earnestly seeking God, but nothing seems to be happening.

THINK ABOUT THIS: Perhaps those gnawing feelings of unfulfilled faith are God’s way of getting our attention. Maybe those thoughts are pointing to something which we don’t yet know–something that lies beyond our reach but still draws us with the force of an invisible attraction. Suppose our longing for spiritual fulfillment points to a reality we have not yet discovered–something that really has the ability to turn our lives around.

Paul’s answer to the yearning of the twelve disciples of John is to announce that the promise is fulfilled. Then he baptizes them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And as Paul places his hands on them, the Holy Spirit falls upon them and they begin to show supernatural signs of the Spirit’s presence. On that day, twelve people did more than make a superficial commitment to Jesus. They experienced God’s power and were transformed. They encountered God, and the promises that they heard about in the past were finally answered in their own lives.

If you are just going through the motions, God is saying, “I am here, and I am ready to fulfill my promises in your life.” This new life takes commitment from us which says, “I have heard your message, Lord, and I believe it. I want to experience all you have promised and I am willing to commit myself to the next step in my spiritual life.” Saying this takes great openness and trust in what God wants to do in your life. We have the choice to invite the Holy Spirit to per part of our lives and transform us, or to shut the Spirit out.

A patient went to her doctor with a catalogue of complaints about her health. The doctor suspected the real problem was the patient’s negative outlook on life; the bitterness and resentment that kept the patient feeling ill. The doctor took the patient to the room in her office where she had a shelf filled with empty bottles. She said to her patient, “See those bottles? Notice they are all empty. I can take one of those bottles and fill it with poison–enough poison to kill a human being. Or I can fill it with enough medicine to bring down a fever, or ease a throbbing headache, or fight bacteria in the body. The important thing is I make the choice. I can fill it with whatever I choose.” The doctor then looked at the patient and said, “Each day God gives us is like one of those empty little bottles. We can choose to fill it with love and life-affirming attitudes, so we can fill it with destructive, poisonous thoughts. The choice is ours.”

In our spiritual lives, we have some choices to make. We can just go through life hoping to make the best of what we’ve got, trying to distract ourselves from the feeling that all is pointless. Or we can see life as a glorious gift which points to something even more wonderful which is yet to come.

I suspect the twelve people in Ephesus were faced with the same decision. John’s baptism was OK, but it was not all that God had promised. There was something even more wonderful to come. This phenomenal gift came through accepting Jesus the Messiah in faith and being filled with the Holy Spirit. The same offer is extended to us. It’s your choice to accept the Holy Spirit in your life or to ignore the Spirit’s presence. It’s your choice to live with enthusiasm or to just fumble along, always wanting but never getting what you hoped for. Christ died and rose again so that we could enjoy a relationship with God. The Spirit is here to fill us and transforms us. Don’t be satisfied with anything less.

Luke tells us that the twelve were baptized in the Spirit. The Greek word from which we get the verb baptize literally means “to submerge.” In other words, the twelve men were totally flooded by the power of God’s presence. It engulfed them. It consumed them. For us to experience God to the fullest, we need to be baptized with the Spirit–submerged in our relationship with God. I talk a lot about having an intimate relationship with God from this pulpit. I do this because I’m convinced that without it we are spinning our spiritual wheels in the mud. I speak only from personal experience. I don’t know how I would be able to keep going in this life if I could not call God my friend. The Gospel is this: we are all God’s friends, claimed in baptism and submerged in his Spirit. No longer do we have to wonder when God is going to act. No longer to we have to hopelessly wait for something better. We have been offered friendship . . . relationship . . . status as God’s beloved.

Have you ever stopped to ponder what makes a real friend? One person put it this way:
“Friends are people with whom you dare to be yourself. Your soul can be naked with them. They ask you to put on nothing, only to be what you are. They do not want you to be better or worse. When you are with them, you feel as a prisoner feels who has been declared innocent. You do not have to be on your guard. You can say what you think, as long as it is genuinely you. With a friend you breathe freely. You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meanness and absurdities, and in opening them up to friends they are lost, dissolved on the white ocean of loyalty. They understand. You do not have to be careful. They like you. You can weep with them, sing with them, laugh with them,. Pray with them. Through it all – and underneath – they see, know, and love you. A friend? Just one, I repeat, with whom you dare to be yourself.”

God offers this kind of friendship with us – the kind of friendship I know to be true in my own life. No more aching loneliness. No more yearning for something better. No more unfulfilled promises. God sees us, know us, and despite of what we’ve done, and especially because of everything we’ve done, God loves us. What baptism did you experience? Are you living a life of waiting for unfulfilled dreams, not knowing that they have all come true? Are you living in only half the blessing, not knowing the tremendous joy and love that comes with experiencing God through a relationship with Christ and a submersion in the Spirit? Are you living a Christian life on the outside and secretly wondering if there is more? If so, there is no secret formula. No magic words. Nothing to buy. No gimmicks. We simply believe, receive, and begin a new life submerged in God.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sermon for August 1, 2010

Angry at God

Sometimes I hear people talk about feeling angry toward God. And sometimes they feel kind of guilty about it. Take this letter for instance. It was written to a newspaper columnist:
At an early age, my mother was taken from me and my family due to an illness. It was a terrible blow for all of us to take. My biggest struggle then and now is my anger. I acknowledge the existence of a higher power but find it hard to believe in God. I'm angry with him for taking my mother from me. It seems as though God is made out to be our savior, our forgiver and our friend. Why would he tear my family life asunder by taking her from us? I've moved away from the Lord as a result, angry that he robbed such a powerful figure from my life. How can I cope with and heal my anger with him?
The mother's death has not merely cost this man a mother. That alone is hard enough. His experience has alienated him from God. His sense of how and why he belongs in this world has shifted. The one whom he intimately called “God” is now a source of anger. He acknowledges the existence of a higher power but finds it hard to believe in God.

It's like saying you acknowledge the existence of your father, whose name is Fred, but now you're calling him Fred instead of Dad, or maybe even you're calling him "hey you." Because, while you know he's standing there, you're mad at him. And you don't trust him. So you choose a name that provides safe distance. For this man, even the word “God” fills him with images of an mean alpha male who rips families apart.

The people who wrote our scriptures knew this kind of anger. We read about it a lot in the Psalms. Listen to the opening words of Psalm 13:
Long enough, God— you've ignored me long enough.
I've looked at the back of your head long enough.
Long enough I've carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
Long enough my arrogant enemies
have looked down their noses at me.
More often than not, we get angry at God over things over which we have no control. It may be a failed relationship. Or the death of a loved one. Or our growing grief over an unending health crisis. Or financial worries. Or any number of things about which we feel we have no control. If we can’t control it, then God must. Someone has to be in control.

So we get angry. And since no one else seems to be available, we get angry at God. And sometimes we feel guilty. The problem is, some of us have been told that it’s inappropriate to get angry at God. We worry that God's feelings will be hurt. Or worse yet, God will return our anger -- and most of us were raised to believe that God is much better at being angry than we can ever be. There is an old saying: Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig. Some people think the same reasoning applies to our relationship with God. Never get angry at God. It wastes your time and annoys God. And you do not want to be on the receiving end of God’s anger. Remember good old Jonathan Edward’s sermon, Sinners in the hands of an Angry God? Edwards wrote, “It is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell.” No one wants to get that God angry!

I think that’s a bunch of nonsense. I say go ahead, be angry at God! Anger is a sign that something is wrong. And it’s OK to let God know about it.

God already knows that we are angry, and God knows why we are angry. God knows the feelings of helplessness, fear, confusion, and disappointment that lead to our anger. Sometimes we feel angry because we are powerless, and God knows our powerlessness. God knows the events and experiences that make us angry. Sometimes we get angry because we are hurt. And God understands pain. God might even share our anger!

Listen to this quote about anger:
I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.
Nelson Mandela wrote those words in his book Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela was truly angry at the injustice that occurred throughout the life of his people. He was not remorseful or ashamed of this anger — it was actually a source of blessing. Anger moved people enough to stand up, to fight for freedom, and to change the unjust system of oppression that was governing South Africa. What an incredible gift anger can be -- to be aware and, therefore, upset. Your anger can be a great motivator to help you seek justice and change in the world.

Our feelings do not surprise God. Instead of letting your anger block God, use your anger to let God in. Tell God how you are feeling. Let God know your deepest, darkest fears and concerns. God knows your sorrows and counts your tears. You may never get all the answers, but you may get something else. You may get comfort instead of answers. You may get motivated to change your part of the world. You might even get inspired to change your own life.

You know something else? God can take it. Do you think your anger is so intense that God will crumple before you in a mess of tears and hurt feelings? Is God like an over-sensitive child? Of course not! God has faced greater anger than ours and survived! God’s shoulders are broad and powerful. God can certainly deal with our anger. We do not run the risk of harming God when we are being honest about our feelings.

I think being honest with God is a good thing. To protest against God is still good. You know what is not good? To simply ignore God. Anger, yes. Protest, yes. Affirmation, yes. But indifference? Never.

So if God already knows about our anger, understands the source of our anger, recognizes why we are angry, and can easily handle our anger, why are we reluctant or guilty about expressing how we feel? Rather than keeping it all pent up inside us, sometimes just letting go and yelling our heads off can be a good thing. Too often we let our anger fester inside us, building up and growing until it seeks escape in destructive and violent ways. Let off some of that steam. Go outside and yell at God. Sit in your room and tell God what you think. Pace your living room and give God a good talking to! You just might feel better and God won't be any worse off - honest! You might even be able to do some clear and constructive thinking about what made you angry after venting your emotions. Here’s an idea: go to a private safe place, perhaps alone in your car. Turn your radio up loud, wind up your windows and verbalize all those angry feelings to God in all their intensity. Do it for 30 days. The first day, take 30 minutes and vent. The next day, try it for 29 minutes. On day three, be alone for 28 minutes, and so on. See what happens by day 30.

You might just come to realize that God has a different plan for your life. Consider this passage from Colossians 3:
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you . . . now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.
I think it’s OK to be angry at God, but it’s not OK to stay angry. That only hurts you. Ongoing anger doesn’t affect God. But it changes you. Ongoing anger changes the way you perceive reality. Ongoing anger harms your relationships. Paul advises us to get rid of feelings like anger, rage, and malice, because they make our lives worse off. Over time, these feelings keep us from experiencing the liberating, transforming, renewing, glorious new life that God wants us to have.

Anger is a holy, if difficult intimacy. Whatever causes you to feel pain is now part of your spiritual journey. It calls for strength, and honesty, and the steadfast assurance that God is for us.

God, thank you that in the tragedies of life you know, you care, and you understand. Please help us to understand why bad things often happen to good people, and lead us to the help we need to understand our anger at you. Use us -- our lives, our emotions, our fears, our strengths, and our weaknesses – to fulfill your aims for us, our families, and the world.

Sources:
http://www.lvrj.com/blogs/kalas/It_takes_great_faith_to_be_angry_with_God.html
http://www.whosoever.org/v5i3/adam.html
http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/spurgeon/web/edwards.sinners.html
http://protestantism.suite101.com/article.cfm/prayers-for-anger

Sermon for July 18, 2010

The Prayer of the Empty Soul

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. -- 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

I once read an article in a men’s magazine entitled, “The 50 Skills Every Man Should Know.” Here are some life skills that every man should be able to do:
tell a joke, land a plane (but only if you really have to), cook with passion, roll a kayak, hit a three-point shot in basketball, spot a liar, grill a nice steak, nail a swan dive, teach his dog to fetch the paper, hold his breath underwater for a long time, listen to others, know one good fitness trick, give a compliment, and build a blazing campfire. So, men, how do you stack up?
Women, I don’t want you to feel left out. Blogger Shay Davidson offers her own survival tips that every modern woman needs to know if she wants her happy marriage to last while she remains sane.

1. Teach him to say, “Yes, dear.” In the spirit of fair is fair, women must learn to say, “Yes, dear,” as well. Smile, nod a lot; then do whatever the flip you want. Also, after smiling and nodding, don’t roll your eyes until you’ve turned your back to walk away. Nothing tics a guy off like rolling your eyes at his suggestions. Also, don’t use the phrase “As if!” out loud.

2.In an effort to keep the peace, do NOT take him shopping at the mall with you. Shopping with your husband is like taking your bowling ball along for a swim!

3. When you sign up for cable or satellite service, avoid any package that includes any channel that carries wrestling, boxing or “Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Tryouts.” Don’t worry. He’ll get used to watching CSPAN.

4. Never, ever whine to your parents about your marital problems; they will hate him forever, even long after you’ve forgiven him. From the day on that you complain to mommy, she will refer to him as “that husband of yours…” This is why God made girlfriends to complain to.

5. Pick your battles. Leaving his socks on the bedroom floor is not cause for fight. However, using your brand new designer bathroom towels to wash his car with, might be. On that same note, if you’re annoyed about picking up his clothes from the bedroom floor, stop doing it! Eventually he will need clean clothes and he will need to pick up his own clothes. He will get the hang of it, and it will all happen without any argument at all!

6. When he wants to go camping in a tent on your vacation and you want to go to Paris, compromise; then go to Paris. If your definition of "fun" includes spending days at a time washing dishes under a spigot, shaking dirt out of your shoes and trying to keep the kids clean while he sits in a lawn chair with a drink commenting on how wonderful it is to be out in the wild, then go for it.

7. Sometimes you just have to shake your head and laugh. Relationships and partners can be pretty funny.

This all gets me thinking about the spiritual skills that Christians should possess for a fruitful life. What would you put on your list? Some ideas come to my mind. Christians should know how to pray, to serve, to love, to forgive, to study, and give sacrificially. Christians should also have one more skill. We should know how to survive in the desert. Listen to the words of the Psalmist . . .
As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, “Where is this God of yours?” My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be:I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration! Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! will praise him again— my Savior and my God! . . . Each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. “O God my rock,” I cry, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?” Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?” Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again — my Savior and my God! --Psalm 42
Sure, we have times when we feel on top of the world. We can remember when we felt spiritually vibrant. But the psalmist expresses another experience. He travels through a spiritual desert. At one time he felt the presence and power of God, but now he thirsts for God in the midst of an arid faith. Enemies taunt him. His heart is discouraged. He feels forgotten. His spiritual life is empty. I can relate. I imagine you can, too. A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me for a good prayer when your soul is empty. What do we do when our lives are marked by feelings of loneliness, and separation from God? How do we go one when we don’t feel God’s presence? How do we cope with spiritual lives that feel arid and we thirst for God.

Where are the arid places in your spiritual life? How do you pray when your soul feels empty? I looked up a dozen or so Internet sites with tips on how to survive in a desert. Perhaps there is some wisdom in these survival tips that applies to our spiritual lives.

1. Don’t ration water. Drink it.
The experts agree that if you are in a desert and you save all your water for the hike home, you may die. If you are stuck in the desert, drink what you have as often as you can. The same is true in our spiritual lives. We need to drink, even when we aren’t thirsty. What is our water? What keeps us alive? Jesus says he is the Living Water who satisfies us and renews our lives. When we are in a spiritual drought, sometimes the last thing we want to do is seek the Lord. Reading the bible can feel dull and dreary. Prayer can feel monotonous. But if you want to survive the spiritual desert, don’t stop drinking from the well of Christ’s wisdom. It may feel like scripture study, prayer, and other acts of faith are useless, but they may actually be keeping you alive. Drink from wisdom of God. Drink from what you have, as often as you can.

2. Know the Danger.
Survival experts say that travelers need to know ahead of time when they are entering a dangerous place. Know the risks before you leave. There are heat-related dangers like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. And by all means, leave the snakes alone. They can hurt or kill you if you stick your hand some place where it shouldn’t be. There is a parallel here to our spiritual journeys. When it comes to our faith, we like to talk about the blessings. We rarely mention the hard parts. If we are serious about walking in the footsteps of Jesus, we need to know the risks. When we follow Jesus, we become more aware of the evil and temptation around us. We will reach out and grab something and it will bite us. There will be times when we feel perplexed, crushed, persecuted, and cut down. Why do you think the Bible spends so much time describing God as a strong rock, a firm defense, a sure refuge and a help for the weak? It’s so that we remember that when we face the dangers of life, we have someone to lean on. If you want to survive the spiritual desert, follow the advice of the Psalmist: put your hope in God.

3. Stay Together.
Many rescues occur in situations where a group decided to split up to find help and someone ended up alone. People could avoid some disasters if they stayed together. So often in our spiritual deserts, we decide to go it alone -- to split off from the rest of the church. We decide we know the best route, that we don’t need the rest of “those people” to help us find the way. I believe we do so at our own peril.

The Discovery Channel once showed a film about wildebeests on the Serengeti plains in Africa. Herds of wildebeests migrate there each year to mate and birth their young. Among them roam vicious predators, including the hyena. A newborn wildebeest has about 15 minutes to get up and run with the adult herd. Slow starters risk becoming a hyena’s lunch. The baby barely has time to get used to breathing when the mother nudges it to stand. The newborn steadies itself on wobbly hind legs, forelegs bent beneath its bobbing head. The film shows a hyena approaching, stiff-legged with lowered head and bared teeth.The mother wildebeest bravely steps between the hyena and the baby. Before long, a circle of more hyenas distract the mother, while other hyenas take the baby. Meanwhile, there are thousands of wildebeests spread out nearby. As they graze, they lift their heads occasionally to watch the desperate mother. Any of them could rally to help save the newborn. Not a single one dies. It’s hard to survive spiritually without others to support you, encourage you, pray for you, and help you grow into a well-nourished spiritual person. Our habit is to live our lives as stoic individualists. We learn to stay out of each other’s affairs, to keep our distance. But that’s now God’s way. We are called to love each other, to care for one another, and to stick together.

4. Be prepared for some cold nights.
The desert is a place of extremes. Brutal heat by day gives way to icy coldness at night. If you aren’t prepared for the drastic differences, you will die in the desert. We should be prepared for some extremes in our faith journeys, too. There will be times when we feel cold-hearted and alone. Expect that extreme conditions will afflict us. The Apostle Paul puts it this way: We are treasures in clay pots. The gifts of God are contained in these ordinary, fragile human bodies. We are mortal vessels who face life’s challenges. We are surrounded by hardship and humility, even though Christ fills us with glory. So remember that both the hardship and the glory, the extremes of our faith, help us recognize our utter dependence on God. With this in mind, let me offer one more tip.

5. Don’t lose hope. Help is on the way.
God knows where we’ve come from. God knows our starting point, our destination, and every point in between. God knows when we’re ablaze with love and when we need to be rescued from arid faith. That’s why I cherish Paul’s words so much. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed. In fact, Jesus has already been there. He faced the desert. We put out hope in God because Jesus was in despair. He was abandoned. He was struck down. But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus was not destroyed. He lives on. For this reason, we know that our momentary journeys through the desert regions of life lead us to eternal glory in God’s presence. Don’t lose hope. Help is on the way.

God knows where we are, and God knows how to bring us to safety. No one plans on getting lost. So, when you find yourself in spiritual deserts, hang in there. There are no instant paths out. It takes time. Drink deeply, know the dangers, stay together, and be prepared for some cold nights. And most of all, never, ever give up hope. God is coming to help.

Sermon for January 21, 2018

How Far Would You Go? 1 Samuel 17 I had a sermon all ready to go today. It was a NICE sermon. You would have felt really good about i...