RSS Feed

02-26 - Undefeated- Skepticism

          It may not seem like it just yet, but we are rapidly approaching Easter.  Easter is April 9 this year.  And as Christian celebrations go, Easter Sunday is perhaps the most important of all days because all of Christianity hinges on the Easter resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul put it this way to the church in Corinth.  “14 If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

          Everything about the Christian faith and the promises we hold dear depend upon the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday morning.  It might surprise us to learn that the early church never celebrated Easter Sunday. Why not?  Because to the early church every Sunday was resurrection Sunday. Every gathering was about the resurrection of Jesus because the resurrection, Jesus coming back to life from the dead, was viewed as the singular event that proved who Jesus was and what had promised of him and by Him in the Hebrew Scriptures.

          The Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, were essential to the early church and remain essential to us in understanding the significance of Jesus and the events of Easter Sunday.  Through the Old Testament, the people had been prepared, or should have been prepared, to recognize Jesus when He came to earth.  Of the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah, through the book bearing his name, written 700 years before the birth of Jesus is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other prophet.  Chapter 53 of Isaiah, in particular, foresaw the Jesus’ story and spoke poetically of it. Why does it matter that the Old Testament would contain the prophecy of what was to come?  It is this: One of the greatest proofs of the divine inspiration of the Bible is prophecy. How could anybody know the future? Nobody knows the future. The devil does not know the future. Angels do not know the future. You and I do not know the future. But God knows the future – perfectly.  One of the greatest proofs of Jesus is the Old Testament.  If the people did not know from the Old Testament who to expect as Messiah, how would they, how would we, know the New Testament is truth as well? We can be sure of our Christian beliefs in large measure because of what we learn through the Old Testament.

Isaiah 53 is a story in which the suffering servant comes and wins despite seemingly impossible odds.  Although ancient Jewish writers saw this chapter as being about the promised Messiah, modern Jewish writers are less inclined to see it that way.  Christians see Isaiah 53 as a story of Jesus.  It is a story in which Jesus wins against skepticism, spiritual blindness, dysfunctional relationships, temptation and sin, and ultimately the grave.  Jesus was undefeated against all opponents including death.  Jesus being undefeated, especially against death, is what we celebrate on Easter Sunday.  But we do not celebrate Jesus’ victories so much for Him, as we celebrate the victories for ourselves.  I would like to make use of the Isaiah 53 as a guide to lead us on toward Easter Sunday morning as we rediscover who Jesus was, is, and what had been promised of him and by Him, and that in all things we share in Jesus’ undefeated record.

          Let’s begin with the opening words to Isaiah’s story of the person of history we call by many names to include Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 21:11), the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), and the resurrection and the Life (John 11:25).  Isaiah wrote, “1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”  Isaiah begins the story of the coming Messiah with a question that wonders aloud as to who has been paying attention?  Who has been paying attention to words offered in so many ancient sermons and so many ancient prayers that God would send someone to deliver the people of Israel from the bonds of sin, doubt, and of defeat at the hands of its enemies? One would expect that answer to this question would be that the nation of Israel had been paying attention and was attentive to the Messiah’s coming.  All of Israel had heard those messages and sermons that God would send to them their Messiah.

          To whom had the arm of the Lord been revealed?  Here the arm of the Lord means the paradox of the strength of God’s power and the gentleness of His touch.  One would expect that answer to this question would be the nation of Israel was looking for these signs of God working among them.  They had seen acts of God in the past and read about them from Genesis and Exodus.  They were looking for more.

          But Isaiah’s words were words of prophecy, meaning a foreseeing of the future.  In and of that future was Jesus.  And so, we must see Isaiah’s questions in light of Jesus. “1 Who has believed our message [of Jesus] and to whom has the arm of the Lord [Jesus’ mighty works] been revealed?”  We read earlier from the opening of the Apostle’ John’s Gospel, “11 He [Jesus] came to that which was his own [the nation of Israel], but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).  John witnessed Jesus give the message of hope and life among the Jewish people and their leaders.  John witnessed Jesus perform a great many miracles.  But the people did not believe Jesus was their Messiah.  And in many ways, Jesus was not their Messiah.  He was God’s Messiah.  John observed that, “37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:37-38).  Isaiah foresaw and Jesus experienced that neither Jesus’ message nor his works were accepted by the Jews.  But Jesus was not defeated by the lack of response and skepticism. 

          Jesus pressed on and when it was evident to Jesus that his death was only hours away, Jesus told his own disciples “11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me [that is the message]; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves [the evidence of the arm of the Lord] (John 14:11).  Jesus encouraged his disciples not to be overcome by the skepticism of the world and the Jews, but to hang onto the message of hope and the signs of wonder from God’s own Messiah Jesus.

          Why did the Jews reject Jesus despite the evidence of God’s presence revealed in Christ? I have today referred to it as skepticism.  Now skepticism, having a questioning attitude and wanting to know why is not inherently bad unless we honor our own skepticism and allow ourselves not to learn. That type of skepticism that resists learning is outright disbelief, suspicion, distrust, and cynicism.  That is the type of skepticism the Jews expressed toward Jesus.  They did not learn the message of Christ, they did not learn from the miracles of Christ, because they did not allow themselves to feel.  One Christian author put it this way, “I learned because I felt it.” We need to let that thought sink in for a moment.  “I learned because I felt it.”

          It is not enough that we learn the facts or see an event, to believe a profound spiritual truth, we must foremost feel it.  We cannot learn Jesus as though he was a subject of study as in mathematics as much as we must open ourselves up to feel the wonder of God evident in the teaching and actions of Jesus.  Learning on that level comes from experience.  When I think of high points in my learning of Jesus, everyone of them was in context to a profoundly emotional moment in which I had allowed myself to feel.  But that the experience of feeling the presence of God can be blocked by unreasonable skepticism, cynicism, suspicion, envy, and prejudice.

Isaiah foresaw such self-defeating behaviors towards Jesus by the Jews.  Isaiah wrote, “2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.  He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).  Isaiah foresaw that the Messiah would come in an inconspicuous manner, much like a tender shoot out of a dry ground.  He would be someone easily missed.  In fact, the Israelites believed that God’s Messiah would be born in Bethlehem but that the appearance as the Messiah would be hidden by God and then brought out of concealment with a suddenness.  He would be at first easily overlooked and then suddenly appear.

After Jesus’ birth, a few shepherds took notice of him at the direction of angels and two people at the temple took notice of Jesus upon his dedication.  Otherwise, Jesus was virtually unknown to anyone but his family until Jesus reached the age 30, the age that men were considered old enough to have rabbinical status.  Suddenly, Jesus was on the scene.  He moved rapidly throughout Israel from along the River Jordan, to Cana, to Galilee, Jerusalem, Jericho, Samaria, and many other locales.  But of Jesus’ appearance, Isaiah said, “3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3).

Jesus did not fit the picture of the Messiah and so people hide their faces from him and shunned him. One time, Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth. There, in the synagogue, Jesus preached these words from Isaiah, Chapter 61: “’The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:19-21).  The people asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  Then within a few minutes, 29 They [The townspeople] got up, drove him [Jesus] out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff” (Luke 4:29).  The skepticism of the people had blown up and now they despised Jesus wanting him dead. 

There would be at least seven other times in which the skepticism of the people or the religious leaders toward Jesus swelled so much that they sought to kill Jesus because he did not fit the image of who they wanted.  They despised Jesus.  They rejected him and his message.  People turned their backs on him and hid their faces from him.  They plotted against Jesus in secret.  They looked for the right opportunity to seize him and were overjoyed when one of Jesus’ own disciples offered to betray him.  Isaiah saw this coming and made clear to those who were attentive that the Messiah would be among those who are rejected, scorned, and ridiculed.

Despite the repeated rejections and scorn, Jesus never once waivered from being with those who suffered and those who were in pain. Jesus healed and gave comfort.  He forgave sin and set those in bondage to sin free.  Yes, Jesus would become well acquainted with his own suffering and pain but not before he first entered the suffering and pain of others.

Jesus healed the blind who all had thought were blind because of sin by them or the blind person’s parents.  Jesus healed them and removed the social rejection that they had endured.  Jesus healed the lepers and removed the rejection and the pain it caused upon the person so made ill.  Those who were healed and those who opened their hearts to Jesus learned that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, because they felt it.  They learned because they felt it. 

Let’s think of it this way.  A person can play musical notes as prescribed to them on a sheet of music.  People can be trained to play an instrument.  But a person trained to play an instrument is not a musician, and does not make music, unless that person also feels the music.  A musician feels the music and becomes united with the notes and the instrument they are playing.  Many people heard Jesus’ words and saw Jesus’ miracles and took them is as merely notes on a sheet of music.  Many were indifferent to Jesus and others esteemed him not because they never felt the power, the rhythm, meaning of Jesus.  It was only a few men and women who truly learned who Jesus was because they allowed themselves to feel who he was.

Jesus’ Apostle Peter felt the sensation of Jesus early in his time with Jesus.  One time, Jesus got into Peter’s boat and told Peter to move into deeper waters and cast out his net.  Peter was tired and reluctant to cast the net.  In a word, Peter was skeptical about doing what Jesus asked.  Peter had reason to feel this way.  Peter had been defeated because he and his partners had worked all night and had caught absolutely no fish.  Nevertheless, Peter did as Jesus asked.  Within moments, Peter’s net was full of fish, so many that the nets were at their breaking point.  Peter summoned his partners to come and help.  Together they brought the fish into their boats.  They had so many fish that the boats nearly sank.  Luke wrote, “When Simon Peter saw it [the boatload of fish], he [Peter] fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me for I am a sinful man’” (Luke 5:8).  Peter felt it.  Peter felt what it is was like to know Jesus and be in the presence of holiness.  And Peter felt what it was like to go from defeated to being undefeated.  Peter was not sure what to do with his sensations except to acknowledge Jesus as holy and that he himself as not.

Here is some good news.  Jesus did not depart from Peter as had been asked of him.  Instead, Jesus said to Peter come and be with me always. Come and instead of being a simple fisherman, come a be a fisher of men.  Peter did as Jesus asked and joined Jesus for the rest of his life on earth and for all eternity.  Peter learned more about this man, this Son of God, Jesus, as Peter continually allowed himself to feel the presence of Christ.  In the time Peter spent with Jesus, Peter came to see and experience that the prophesy of Isaiah.  And Peter came to see and experience that ultimately Jesus was undefeated by skepticism that became outright disbelief, suspicion, distrust, cynicism, being despised, and ultimately rejected.  Though many would hide their faces from Jesus and despise him, Jesus was never defeated.  Peter also bore witness to the ultimate act of being undefeated in that he saw Jesus risen from the dead.

Everyone here today has at some time in their life, to include perhaps at this moment, has received from others skepticism of your abilities, suspicion of your motives, distrust of your gifts, cynicism about your integrity, to include perhaps even being despised, and rejected. This is what Christ felt as well. We may also have felt at times in our life defeat like Peter.  “What is the point?  What is the purpose in casting the net one more time?  I know it will only come back to me empty.”  But.  Isaiah pointed out to us that God would send you and me an anointed Messiah, a savior, who himself would be despised and rejected, a man familiar with our suffering and pain.  But he would be a man who was undefeated.  And he would be a man who would invite you and me to join with him and God, into the presence of divine life and divine love.  This man of suffering and pain would invite each of us into a life and love with new brothers and sisters, the church, who would love and not despise, who would carry one another’s burdens and not reject. This man, Jesus, who would be undefeated is calling you and me to be undefeated with him, to learn from him by feeling the love he has for us.  This is the man and the invitation Isaiah saw.  This is the man and the invitation Peter received upon his knees in a boat full of fish.  This is the man and the invitation you and I have received this day.  Let’s not be overcome but let us be undefeated in Christ. Amen and Amen.

02-19 - Spiritual Parachute - Encourager

          This week I would like to finish our look at the question, “Who Is Packing Your Parachute?”  Last week we spoke about this question of parachute packing through the lens of God’s love shown to us and for us in the person of Jesus.  We saw that God’s love was the very atmosphere that gives rise to life now and for all times.  We also saw that our response to God’s love for us was that we should love one another. This week, I would like us to go the next step and understand how we can love one another in a practical sense. How do we pack each other’s parachute?

          I was thinking about this subject of parachute packing the other day and I began recalling some activities of my childhood.  I was a child of the 1960’s and early 1970’s when space exploration and sending a man to the moon was very much a national interest.  Because of that, all the kids in my neighborhood got into model rocketry. We would purchase these kits in which you had to assemble your rocket, install solid fuel rocket engines, ignite the engines, and  launch the rockets skyward.  I must also admit that some of those rockets went more horizontal than vertical when a wing or two fell off after launch.  Some of the simpler rockets had a single engine.  Other more complicated rockets had a couple of stages with engines for each stage.  The more complex rockets had a payload bay where you could launch an item skyward with your rocket.  We learned quickly that earthworms do not do well with the G-forces of the rocket engine. The more complex rockets also required parachutes to deploy and safely guide your rocket back to earth to be used again.  You needed to pack that parachute correctly with talcum powder so that the parachute would open, and you had to ensure that the strings connecting the chute to the rocket were not tangled.  I remember how the older kids willingly helped the younger to get the parachutes properly packed. 

In this context, the older kids were encouragers of the younger kids.  The older kids were encouragers in three important way.  First, the older kids were not indifferent to the struggles of the younger kids.  Second, the older kids wanted the younger kids to learn what they had learned themselves. Third, the older kids shared in the joy when the rockets, including the parachutes, of the younger kids worked well. 

I thought looking back on these days, that if kids playing with rockets could be encouragers of one another, how much more valuable would it be if we each became encouragers of one another in the great matters of faith. I think to be an encourager should be our focus today in packing the spiritual parachutes of another.

Let’s look at that thought about encouragement from our Scripture reading today.  We read earlier from Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica.  That letter we call 1 Thessalonians.  Scholars believe that in the entirety of the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians is the earliest of the Christian writings and was probably written around AD 50. 

Our passage today began with Paul expressing that believers are different from the world.  Paul described believers as being awake and living in the light and describe nonbelievers as being asleep and living in darkness.  Paul said, “5 You (Believers in Thessalonica) are all children of the light and children of the day. We (Believers) do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-7). Paul was dividing the world into just two types of people: believers and nonbelievers.  Believers are people who live in the light of day and are awake to the realities of this world and the next world.  Believers are sober.  Believers have a serious mind and convictions.  Believers are different from the rest of the world, the nonbelievers, who have not accepted the light offered by God.  Nonbelievers, Paul said act as though they are asleep, seemingly unaware of all that is going on around them.  That differentiation between believers and nonbelievers as light and darkness is an often repeated theme in Scripture. 

Paul continued, “8 But since we (believers) belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He (Jesus) died for us (believers) so that, whether we are [physically] awake or asleep, we may live together with him [Jesus]” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10).  Paul said to the believer, put on faith and love as a breastplate and salvation as though it was a helmet.  Paul was calling for believers to see faith, love, and salvation as spiritual armor, that they had received from God that would keep them safe and alive in Christ.  With such armor there was nothing to fear.  Everything vital had been covered and protected.

Because Jesus covers us, Paul said we should, “11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11a).  What does it mean to encourage and build up someone else?  If Jesus has covered the essentials, why do believers need encouragement?  Let’s dispense with the latter question first.  Why do believers need encouragement and being built up in the faith? It is simple.  The world is hostile toward believers and believers still experience all the trials of living in this world.  We still get ill.  We still have loved ones who die.  We still have disappointments.  We are still subject to abuse and neglect.  We still need encouragement.

In the New Testament, the call to encourage believers is made no fewer than 38 times.  In the first letter of the Christian Church, 1 Thessalonians Paul said, 

  • We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith (3:2)
  • Encourage one another with words of faith (4:18)
  • Encourage the disheartened (5:14)

Borrowing from my story of childhood rocketry, the older kids helped the younger because they were not indifferent to the struggles of the younger. The same is true when we encouragement is offered to another.  To offer encouragement is the truest sign that we are not indifferent to the struggles of another.  To offer encouragement means that you are willing to discharge today’s societal response of “whatever” and instead to step into another person’s life, not to take it over, but to help them lift themselves up.

          In the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 4, we hear the wisdom, “9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (4:9).  Having people come into our life to encourage us with a hand up, an encouraging word, time together to complete a task, are all sources of encouragement and says to the receiver, “You matter.”

          The writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews, some believe it was Paul, said, “24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).  I am not sure if we fully appreciate the significance of church attendance to the encouragement of one another.  To attend church is a way of us saying we are not indifferent.  We are not indifferent to our relationship with God, and we are not indifferent to our relationship with one another.  Without fail, someone after the Easter Sunday or Christmas Eve service will say to me, “Wasn’t wonderful to see so many people in church today?  Wouldn’t it be nice if it was like that every Sunday?”  What these folks have come to realize is that greater church attendance on Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve leads to a feeling of greater encouragement.  Attendance at church matters because people are encouraged in their own relationship with God, and they know brothers and sisters are not indifferent to their struggles.

Paul said we should, “11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11a). 

Drawing again from my childhood rocketry example, the older kids helped the younger learn what they did not know on their own.  We see the same charge on us in Scripture.  Again, the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians said, “11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity i the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).  Paul’s point was the entirety of church has been equipped to continually bring people along in their faith so that each one of us learns and experiences what we had not known about God.  And by know, I don’t mean to say that we have more head knowledge alone but that what we discover what effects our heart and soul.  That in knowing God we can be a peace with God, ourselves, and with others.

          The Apostle Peter said that such peace and knowledge of God becomes evident to others who we meet and with whom we work.  People will ask about the spirit we present.  Peter said because this is so, “15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

          We are each called to encourage one another in the development of our faith so that we can be built up in the maturity of our faith.  Paul said that when we encourage one another in this manner, “14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:14-16). We should share what we know and what we have experienced in Bible studies.  We should share Christian music that has meaning to us.  We should share to encourage one another thoughts and reflections from devotionals, Christian movies, Christian plays, spiritual retreats, worship services, and the list goes on.  When we do such things, we are packing the spiritual parachute of another.

          This brings us to our final point.  When we become an encourager, we can rejoice together. While Paul encouraged us toward being of a sober mind, that is serious about matters of faith, Paul also encouraged us to rejoice together.  Paul understood that there was a relationship between encouragement and rejoicing.  The older kids understood that principle in helping the younger kids with rocketry.  We know the truth between encouragement and rejoicing.  Consider two simple examples.  In your job, your boss says, “We really like the work you are doing and so we are giving you a promotion.”  What do we do in response?  We might say to our friends, “Hey, let’s go celebrate, I got a promotion.” We get it.  Encouragement leads to joy.  Consider the alternative scenario.  In your job, your boss says, “We really do not like the work you are doing and so we are going to demote you.”  How many of us then say to our friends, “Hey, let’s go celebrate. I got a demotion!”  We do not say such things because we know that encouragement is directly linked to rejoicing.

Thirty-one (31) times in the New Testament, we are encouraged to rejoice.  Fifteen (15) of those times come from Paul.  Paul said, 

  • Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)
  • Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)
  • Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

From the very first Christian letter, 1 Thessalonians, Paul also said, “14bEncourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  As we saw that church attendance is directly related to a sense of encouragement, we also see that encouragement in our faith is directly related to our capacity and desire to rejoice.

          Encouragement from and to one another packs our respective spiritual parachutes. Let us be encouragers and not be indifferent to each other’s struggles.  When we meet a disagreeable person, what have we been taught?  “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”  This advice came from Thumper in the Bambi movie.  How about we do something more Biblical.  “If you don’t have anything nice to say, offer a word or two of encouragement.”  A word or two of encourage says, even to a grumpy person, “I am not indifferent to your struggles.”

Let us be encouragers and build each other up in the faith.  We all have something to offer one another.  Let us be encouragers and together rejoice in what the Lord is doing among us and through us.  It is a marvelous thing.  Let us pack each other’s spiritual parachutes.  Encourage and rejoice!  Amen and Amen.

02-12 - Spiritual Parachute

          Last week, I started the message with a question, “Who is packing your parachute?”  The question came about from the Charlie Plumb, a former prisoner of war, held nearly 6 years, in North Vietnam.  Charlie asked this question after he encountered the man who packed his parachute allowing Charlie to glide safely to the earth after his fighter jet was shot down in Vietnam.  We explored last week that while Charlie had a physical parachute, we all have a spiritual parachute.  In that spiritual parachute that we find our salvation from God, a gift given to us through the completed work of Jesus upon the cross.  We also find in that parachute joy experienced when we use the power of the Holy Spirit within us in the ministry of grace and sharing the good news of Jesus with others.  Today, I would like us to explore a bit more about the packing and the sustainment of our spiritual parachute.

          Now some of you may have parachuted in the past.  I was asked whether I had ever gone parachuting.  I said that I had not.  When asked, “Why haven’t you tried parachuting?  Are you afraid to parachuting?”  I replied, “I am not afraid.  It is just that I have a personal policy against jumping out of perfectly good airplanes!”  Now suppose none of had such a policy about jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and we all decided to jump out of that perfectly good airplane with our parachute. Once we jumped clear of that airplane, we would immediately experience the effects of gravity.  We would begin accelerating in speed downward toward the ground.  We would continue our rapid descent until we pulled the ripcord on the parachute.  Once we pulled that ripcord, the material of the parachute would begin to unfold and very quickly fill with air causing an immediate change in our rapid descent. The resistance of the air underneath our now opened parachute would work against the force of gravity that had been pulling us ever downward.  The lift offered by the resisting force of the air would allow us to have a controlled and safe landing.  The scenario of a graceful and peaceful landing against the forces of gravity exists if we have a properly packed parachute and a supporting atmosphere. Parachutes work on earth where there is an atmosphere.  Parachutes do not work where there is no atmosphere.  Parachutists are lift up if and only if they are surround in an atmosphere capable of resisting the forces of gravity.  NASA does not use parachutes on the moon where there is no atmosphere. On the moon, you would only crash.

          The science of parachuting tells us something about our spiritual life.  The first thing we understand from our discussion of physical science about our spiritual life is that we live in a world forces.  In our spiritual life there are spiritual forces working on us that work much like gravity upon a parachutist.  Those worldly spiritual forces like their physical counterparts are always pulling us in a downward direction.  There are spiritual forces that bring us down with discouragement and some that bring us down with lies and deceptions.  We are pulled downward by guilt, regret, and shame.  We accelerate downward even faster by belief systems that make us feel like a failure.  The experience of loneliness and a sense of indifference as to whether we are alive or not causes us to feel as though we have just impacted upon the earth itself.  The forces pulling us downward are as relentless and unconcerned as gravity is upon any object.  None of these forces can be resisted in our own strength.  When these forces grab hold of us, it is as though we parachuted in a vacuum.  We tend for simplicity to sum up all these worldly spiritual forces as the work of Satan. Our understanding of the science of parachuting tells us that left unchecked the result of these worldly spiritual forces is nothing but a downward spiral and an inevitable painful, life ending impact.

          But!  There is always a but!  But our understanding of the science of parachuting also tells us that the downward and inevitable spiral of the forces pulling downward can be overcome if there is an atmosphere.  What then is the spiritual atmosphere that overcomes the relentless and uncaring forces of the world?  In a word, the spiritual atmosphere we must possess is love.  Love is the overcoming spiritual force, the very atmosphere. that gives life to us all.  Love is a force that lifts us up.  It packs our parachute and keeps us aloft.  Love is a force that resist the forces those forces that would otherwise cause us to fall downward to a certain impact.  Love is the very atmosphere we require and it is something we cannot provide for ourselves.

          As we think more deeply about the atmosphere of love, we come also to see that love is not a thing at all.  Love is a living being.  John, the writer of our New Testament letter today said it succinctly, “God is love” (1 John 4:8b; 1 John 4:16a).  God, a living being, expressed by John as the very virtue of love is the atmosphere we require and is capable of resisting for us all worldly forces.  Like our earthly atmosphere that we had no part in creating, we did not create God.  God was and is and He provides the atmosphere in which we can live.

          John explained it this way, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).  We have heard these words often, “God is love.”  What we need to keep in mind though is that John was speaking through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit not to the world at large.  John was speaking to people he called his friends, meaning people who had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  John was preaching to the choir, as well as the organist if you will, and the congregation.  John was not on the street corner talking to any just anyone passing by.

          John said, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7a).  The capacity, willingness, and stamina to love, in the way John was speaking about, is not something anyone possesses through mortal birth, through study, or through practice.  Love, the type of love John is talking about, comes from only one source, God.  John said, “Everyone who loves [in this manner] has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7b).  To love in the manner John means here requires a second birth. John was speaking here that those who love in the manner of God are “13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13).

          John was making the point that those born into this world may express a kind of love, a love of this world, its ways, and the things of this world.  Worldly love is not a force able to resist the downward and dark forces of the world.  Worldly love is not capable of creating an atmosphere necessary for life.  It is only when we are reborn of God that we come to understand and appropriate a fit portion of the love that transforms, love that resists evil, and love that gives lift to self and others.

          John said of this love that overcomes the forces of the world that it is available from God and that love was shown to us.  “9 This is how God showed his love among us: He [God] sent his one and only Son [Jesus] into the world that we [you and I] might live through him [Jesus]. 10 This is love: not that we [you and I] loved God, but that he [God] loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).  God showed us what love is by sending his Son, Jesus, to take away, yes to pay dearly for our sins, so that we would be forever freed from the downward worldly spiritual forces work relentlessly to consume us.  God showed us Jesus and Jesus upon the cross as an expression of the depth, breadth, width, and height of love, God’s very nature.  In these verses, John was not encouraging Christians towards love, John was defining love for them.  John said, “This is love,” Christ and Christ upon the cross, “This is love,” and not anything else we might have before thought was love. God did not express himself as love this way in response to some sort of expression of our love towards him first. Jesus was not a reward or love expressed in exchange for something we did or did not do.  God is love and He choose to display that love through Jesus without a motive of benefit to God, himself.  God did not love us because he needed our love in return.  Instead, God knew without his love we are all destined to spiral downward for an inevitable painful, life ending impact.  And God does not want that for any of us.  The only salvation, the only way for us to overcome that downward spiral, is if God fights the fight against those forces for us. We see that God accomplished this fight through Jesus Christ who is the very atmosphere of love.

          We need a moment to take all that John said in just a couple of verses.  No Jesus, no atmosphere, no love, no help.  There are just the downward pulling forces of the world.  It would be as though we jumped into a vacuum and are heading downward with no hope.  It is a bleak existence with a predictable end.  But!  There is always the but!  But we are saved and sustained through the love God showed us in Jesus Christ.  God is overcoming the downward forces of the world and has given us hope because God loved us.

          Now, what are we to do in response to receiving God’s love?  What is the appropriate way to reciprocate and show God and God’s love has become part of our life, that we now live in the very atmosphere of love?  Well, we might think, we should love God.  That is true and we can and should do just that. But John said there was a way we must respond.  It is a way that shows we treasure the atmosphere in which we live and shows to others who do not know God, that there is one powerful force able to overcome the worldly spiritual forces pulling them downward.

          John said, “11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us [if we love one another]: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete” (1 John 4:11-17a).  John was pointing out to us that if we want to know and we want show that God loves us, then we must love one another.

          Before Jesus was arrested and murdered.  Jesus told his disciple, “34 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34).  The command of Jesus, explained further by Jesus’ disciple, John, makes it clear that those who are reborn of God must evidence that rebirth by living the very atmosphere of God, who is love.  This sort of love is not like worldly love.  This sort of love propels us to love another believer because within us is the image of God and we see in the other the very image of God.  The atmosphere between and among believers is to be one of love that overwhelms the forces of worldly darkness.

          What keeps us from loving like Jesus?  What is it that keeps us from being part of the atmosphere that lifts one another up?  It is how we see people.  Too often we see others through a lens of suspicion, doubt, fear, and anxiousness, all things that reflect the worldly forces of darkness instead of the heavenly forces of light.  Jesus said, “22 The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  (Matthew 6:22-23).  How do you see others?

          John said, “18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18a). Let us then not fear to love.  Let the image of God within us burn brightly bringing light to our life and allowing us to see correctly the image of God in another.  It is time we jumped into the atmosphere of God’s love and be lifted up by Him.  Amen and Amen.

02-05 Who's Packing Your Parachute

          I want to begin a short series of sermons starting with the question, “Who is packing your parachute?”  The question is not an original one.  The question comes from a man named Charlie Plumb.  Some years ago, I had the honor of spending some time with Charlie.  Charlie was a US Navy pilot during the Vietnam War.  Charlie was shot down over Vietnam and held in their prisons for 2,103 days, that is just short of 6 years.  He was confined to 8’ x 8’ cell most of that time.  He was tortured and he was starved.  In 1973, now 50 years ago, Charlie and the other prisoners of war were returned to the United States.

          I want to introduce Charlie to you through a video segment as he introduces the question, “Who is packing your parachute?”  VIDEO

          Charlie’s story is compelling and asks, “Who is packing your parachute?” and by implication, “Whose parachute are you packing?”  How might we approach these questions in a way that brings a deeper sense of purpose to our lives and a greater understanding of the ultimate reality of God?  Let’s consider first what a parachute in Charlie’s case represented.  For Charlie, the parachute was first an essential piece of equipment necessary for life.  Charlie would not live without that parachute.  Second, Charlie’s parachute was a gift provided by another.  Charlie did not own the parashoot nor did he pack it. Someone gave it to him.  Third, Charlie’s parachute, when deployed, gave Charlie great joy.  Charlie was not happy about landing in Vietnam, but he had joy in seeing the 15 of 18 panels above his head.  A parachute for Charlie was essential to his life, it was a gift from another, and it brought great joy to Charlie when it was used.  Let’s keep those thoughts in mind as we now shift our attention to our New Testament reading today from the Gospel of Luke.

          Luke shared with us that Jesus appointed seventy-two people from among his followers and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. “2 He [Jesus] told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road’” (Luke 10:1-4).

          The 72 people Jesus appointed were not a collection of random people who happened to be standing around one day with nothing to do.  The 72 people Jesus saw that day had seen Jesus’ miracles.  They had heard Jesus’ teachings and words of life.  They had witness Jesus stand up against the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  The 72 people had received Jesus as their Lord.  These 72 people had been equipped with life because they had received lifegiving truths from Jesus.  They were saved.  Salvation by faith in Jesus which is essential for life had been given to these 72 people, just as Charlie Plumb’s parachute, essential to his mortal life, had been given to him.  The 72 were saved.

          Do we think about our salvation often? Believing in Jesus, having faith that Jesus was and is the Son of God and that through him we are forgiven all our sins and given life should be foremost in our minds, but we know it is not. We know that the commonplace experiences of life blur and make dull the magnificence of being saved.  This is why it is so important for each of us to join in worship.  Worship creates the renewing opportunity for us to refocus our hearts, minds, souls, and strength on God.  It must have been an awesome moment in the lives of the 72 believers in Jesus to stand before Jesus and be appointed by him to go forward and share the essential lifegiving news that had been given to them.  We too can have that sense of wonder if we remember daily that we are saved.

We also see here that Jesus was in and around the lands of Samaria, an area that was hostile to the Jews and unwelcoming to Jesus.  Jesus was on a mission to make his way to Jerusalem. Nothing would deter Jesus from his mission to arrive in Jerusalem and share the good news of God’s kingdom with those who would receive it.  As Jesus prepared move forward, Jesus appointed 72 people to go ahead of him.  The mission of the 72 was to prepare the people of the different villages and towns for Jesus’ coming with the message of salvation. 

Jesus saw that what he was asking these 72 people to do was difficult and potentially dangerous; hence they would be lambs without their shepherd among wolves.  Jesus told them to take with them nothing of material value, no purse, bag, or extra sandals.  Having nothing of value to carry did three things for the 72 appointees. 

First, if you have nothing of material value, thieves will not bother with you.  When vacationing in Oahu, we learned to leave nothing of value in our rental car and to keep the car unlocked.  Thieves would then be able to go through your car, realize there is nothing valuable, and leave the car alone.  If you locked your car, the thieves would smash their way in to see what was of value. Jesus’ appointees had nothing of material value to thieves and robbers they would encounter on the road.  Second, having nothing of material value kept Jesus’ appointees humble and focused on the mission.  Third, having nothing of material value made it clear to the villagers and townspeople that the value Jesus’ appointees possessed was in the message of salvation through Christ.

Jesus then told his appointees, “5 When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.  8 When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:5-9).

Jesus gave the 72 practical instructions on being gracious and grateful guests.  And then Jesus told them to do two specific things for their hosts.  First, if there are sick among your hosts, offer healing. Second, to all, offer the message of hope that the kingdom of God, the Son of God has come.  To offer healing to another person is a ministry of grace, it is a gift given to the 72 appointees through the Holy Spirit.  Some of you have been given the gift of bringing healing to the bodies of others.  You treat the wounds and scars of illness and injury.  Some of you have been given the gift of bringing healing to the soul of others. You treat the wounds and scars of trauma and tragedy.  And all of us have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to share the good news of the kingdom of God.  With and through the Holy Spirit you and I have been given the opportunity to bring hope to everyone we meet.

The Holy Spirit given to the 72 appointees is the same Holy Spirit given to you and me.  The Holy Spirit is not ours to own nor is the Holy Spirit of our creation.  The Holy Spirit is given to us to accomplish a mission. Like Charlie Plumb’s case, the parachute was not of his creation nor was the parachute his to own.  The parachute was given to him to be used.

I want to fast forward to the end of today’s passage.  In a single sentence Luke summarized the entirety of the experience of the 72 appointees after they had gone to the villages. After the 72 appointees completed that mission, we read in verse 17, “17 The seventy-two returned with joy” (Luke 10:17a). 

I find these few words amazing and inspiring.  The 72 appointees were sent into these towns and villages nearing the end of Jesus’ public ministry.  We will say in or about the year 33 A.D.  Luke, our author, was not one of the 72 appointees.  Luke interviewed eyewitnesses and compiled memories from those who were present during Jesus’ ministry.  Luke wrote his gospel account likely around 62 A.D., or about 30 years after the events.  Thirty years after the 72 appointees went into the villages and towns ahead of Jesus to heal and bring the good news of Jesus to those who had not heard of him the experience was summed up in one word, joy.  “17 The seventy-two returned with joy” (Luke 10:17a).

Joy.  Joy is not the same thing as happiness.  Happiness is based upon temporary experiences.  We can see this if we fill in the blank in the statement, “I was so happy when…”

  • You smiled at me.
  • They played my favorite song.
  • They finally went home!

Happiness is temporary and cannot remain when circumstances become difficult.  Joy on the other hand is an experience of God’s grace.  Joy sustains us amid trouble and hardship.  Joy allows us to see good in the immediate circumstance regardless of how difficult they may be.  When our good friend Charlie Plumb looked up and saw the 15 of 18 panels on his parachute intact and working, Charlie was not happy for he was drifting slowly into enemy territory.  But even in amid difficult circumstances Charlie could express joy that he had been equipped by another with a lifegiving gift.  The 72 appointees experienced joy when they allowed the Holy Spirit to work through them.  And so can we.

          Who is packing your spiritual parachute?  Are you saved and allowing God’s Holy Spirit to move you into a ministry of grace?  If you are, then you know joy.  If you are not extending God’s grace, then like the very old commercial used to say, “Try it, you’ll like it.”  It fact, more than like it, you will find joy.

          Today, is a special day because we celebrate with the Lord’s Supper.  This is special because today Jesus packs our parachute with something extra, a visible and tangible reminder that we are saved.  Jesus knew our everyday existence would make our relationship with him dulled.  The Lord’s Supper was intended to change our dullness by reminding us that the source of our salvation, the source of our life, comes from our Lord and Savior, Jesus.  The Lord’s Supper was intended to change our lackadaisical attitudes by remembering our salvation was a gift.  We did nothing to earn our salvation.  All the work necessary for us to move from death to life was done for us by Jesus upon the cross.  We alone need to accept and believe in what Jesus did and who he is.  Finally, the Lord’s Supper was intended to remind us that even in the most difficult of trials, trauma, and yes, even gently landing in enemy territory, there can be joy in possessing and exercising the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

          Let us prepare ourselves to remember that we are saved and therefore have the gift of life and joy.  Amen and Amen.

01-22 Jesus in Psalm 118

          The last two weeks, we have seen that God’s Messiah, who entered the world and human history in the person of Jesus, was not a surprise.  The nature, temperament, trials, mission, shall we say the story of God’s Messiah, had been written hundreds of years earlier in the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament.  It was essential that the coming of God’s Messiah be described before the Messiah came into the world.  How else would the people know to expect the Messiah and how would people know who was the authentic Messiah?  I use the word “authentic” because there have been false Messiahs.  While the research on false Messiahs is incomplete, there have been no fewer than 27 Jewish people who have claimed to be God’s Messiah. There have also been more than 20 Christians who have made Messianic claims, including Ann Lee, a central figure of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, also known as the Shakers, who settled in Colonie, NY.  Ann Lee was said to have described herself as the “’embodied all the perfections of God’ in female form and considered herself to be Christ's female counterpart.”

          God wanted to make sure that the people could know the truth about the authentic Messiah and so God shared His knowledge with the people through the prophets and writers of the Hebrew Scriptures. The last two weeks we saw that God gave His knowledge about the Messiah through Psalm 110 and Psalm 22.  This week we will see the truth about the Messiah, about Jesus, was foretold in Psalm 118, and the good news that the Messiah was to bring to us.  In Psalm 118, we will see that God knew that his Messiah would be rejected by those who should have known Jesus was the authentic Messiah.  Jesus was not rejected by the common people so much as Jesus was rejected by the best and brightest people of Israel.  Jesus was rejected by the people who seemed to have their act together spiritually, physically, and emotionally.  The healthy and wealthy rejected Jesus because he did not, in their opinion, fit in.  Jesus did not fit the mold they wanted.  And because Jesus was rejected, Jesus became the target of abuse and ridicule.

          Rejection, not fitting in, not being wanted, being abused, and being ridiculed are painful human experiences.  Rejection deflates us robbing us of hope and a future.  Rejection can produce within us anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy, and sadness.  Rejection is hard and feels very much unfair.  Some of you have or are experiencing rejection.  I have some good news for you.  You are in good company for Jesus was rejected by many people and is still rejected by many people today.  But, and this is the important part, Jesus was never rejected by God and if you seek to follow Jesus, you will never be rejected by him.  Let’s see together why that is the truth and good news for everyone here.

          First, we read from the New Testament Gospel of Mark an account of Jesus sharing a parable with his disciples and a group of Pharisees, religious leaders that shadowed Jesus but consistently rejected Jesus’ teachings.  A parable we know is a story designed to teach an important Biblical truth that people do not seem to understand.  The Gospel writers Matthew and Luke also included this parable in their account of Jesus life and ministry. In the interest of time, I am not going to go into depth for every element of the parable Jesus told.  I just want to emphasize a couple of points from the parable so that we have time to understand the broader context of Jesus’ words.

          Mark wrote, “1 Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: ‘A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower” (Mark 12:1).  We might not immediately understand the significance to Jesus’ opening words, but the Pharisees would unmistakably see that the man in the story was God and the vineyard was Israel.  The Pharisees would remember that in the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet of Isaiah specifically, wrote these words:  “1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.  He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.  He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well…The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel” (Isaiah 5:1-2, 7a).  So Jesus’ opening words to the parable clearly meant the story was about God and the nation of Israel.

          Jesus continued the parable, “Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they (the tenants) seized him (the servant), beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they (the tenants) struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another (servant), and that one they (the tenants) killed. He sent many others; some of them they (the tenants) beat, others they (the tenants) killed” (Mark 12:3-5).  The Pharisees would have understood that given that the man was God and the vineyard was Israel, the tenants would be the leaders of Israel (them), and the servants would be the prophets sent by God with a message of righteousness.  The history of Israel is replete with stories of the leaders of Israel beating and, at times, killing God’s prophets.

          Despite the mistreatment by the tenants, the vineyard owner, God, desired to make things right with the tenants.  Jesus said, “He (The owner-God) had one (servant) left to send, a son, whom he loved. He (The owner-God) sent him (God’s son) last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.  What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.  (Mark 12:6-9).  Jesus’ story is thinly veiled and speaks about God sending his son (Jesus) to the nation of Israel only to have the tenants, the Pharisees, out of jealousy and envy the son.  The tenants, here the Pharisees, could not see the blessing there was in having the son come to them to redeem the situation.  The Pharisees seethed with anger as Jesus warned that their pride, envy, and rejection of him would be their undoing.

          Jesus then further connected the parable with what the Pharisees ought to know from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus said, “10 Haven’t you (Pharisee) read this passage of Scripture: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:10-12). The verse cited by Jesus come from Psalm 118.  Jesus knew these experts in the Hebrew Scriptures had had read Psalm 118 many times before.  What was clear from Jesus’ question was that the Pharisees had not allowed themselves to receive Psalm as God’s Word of what would happen in and through the authentic Messiah.

          What was it about Psalm 118 that Jesus wanted the Pharisees to contemplate, and by extension, for us to know?  Let’s look at a couple of key passages and, in particular, those leading up to Jesus’ quotation from the Psalm 118 to the Pharisees.

          The psalmist said, “15 Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous. The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!  16 The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!” (Psalm 118:15-16).  The psalmist was expressing great things had been accomplished by that the person seated to the Lord’s right hand.  Three times in two verses we hear great things about the Lord’s right hand.  This is significant because in Psalm 110 we learned that God’s Messiah is seated at God’s right.  God said to the Messiah, “Sit at my right hand” (Psalm 110:1a).  So, the testimony of Psalm 118 is that Messiah had done might things.  Jesus did mighty things.  Jesus healed people.  Jesus fed thousands of people.  Jesus walked on water and calmed the storms.  Jesus raised people from the dead.  Jesus taught with authority like no other.  And, Jesus forgave sins.

          Here is an important point we do not want to miss. Jesus was the perfect one to come to earth.  There is nothing random about Jesus coming.  Jesus’ coming was ordained by God to occur at the right time and for the right reasons.  In Psalm 118 we learn that in Jesus’ coming there would be joy and victory from the tents of the righteous.  Jesus came for you and me.

Now there is need for a word of caution.  We have to avoid the idea that to be received by Jesus that we somehow have to first become acceptable.  We do not first need to become righteous on our own to have joy and shouts of joy. Years ago, I thought I will seek Jesus after I get my act in order and become a better person.  That is not the message of hope and promise Jesus came to deliver.  Jesus said come me now, just as you are, and seek the righteousness that comes from me. It is in the seeking and believing in Jesus that provides the transformation of our life, if you will, it is the presence of Christ that causes us to get our act in order and become a better person. If you have been waiting to accept Jesus until you somehow become a better person, then stop.  There is no need and no point in doing that. Instead, come and accept Jesus just as you are and watch the might work of God’s right hand in your life.

          As we return to Psalm 118, we see that the psalmist understood what was going to happen as God’s Messiah followed the will of God.  “17 I will not die but live and will proclaim what the Lord has done.  18 The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death” (Psalm 118:17-18).  The psalmist, though he lived hundreds of years before Jesus, understood from God that there would be those people and groups who would seek to destroy God’s Messiah. As Jesus said in his parables, there was a history of beating and killing prophets who had come with a message from God.  The psalmist acknowledged that the Messiah would experience severe treatment at the hands of the leaders and it would appear as though death would end the Messiah. We know this happened to Jesus for what could be more severe than to be flogged and crucified.  While the horrible treatment of Jesus was done in the hopes that Jesus would be forgotten and his followers would become fearful and not speak of Jesus again, it did not work out that way.  Death was not the final state for the Messiah.

          The psalmist described the final scene this way, “19 Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.  20 This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.  21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation” (Psalm 118:19-20).  We know the good news was and is that Jesus was resurrected into new life and came out of the tomb.  In doing so, Jesus praised God and the people could see that Jesus was truly the gate through which his followers, you and I, could be made right.  Through Christ we are able to have an abundant and enriched life in the present and life eternal.

          How is it possible for us to be so blessed? The words of the psalmist and the words of Jesus reveal the truth to us.  “22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  24 The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad” (Psalm 118:22-24).  The key here is that God has taken Jesus whom the best and brightest of Israel rejected and made Jesus the cornerstone of God’s revelation of himself and the blessing for all people.

The cornerstone is the foundational block of a building that aligns the whole building and ties it all together.  The cornerstone, if not square and level, will make the whole building unstable. God chose that Jesus would be that cornerstone for the church and all spiritual life even knowing or because he knew Jesus would be rejected by men seeking to create a religion they controlled. Jesus was rejected yet Jesus praised God.  Jesus was rejected yet he was true and straight in his thinking.  Jesus was rejected and yet he gave others the right to become part of the kingdom of God.  Jesus told the Pharisees, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9a). Jesus was rejected and yet Jesus would reject none who sought him.

You and I will experience rejection, heartache, and putdowns in our life.  But you and I will never be rejected by God.  God sent Jesus to be rejected for us.  In Jesus, in accepting him, and seeking to imitate Jesus will never be rejected by God.  That is truly good news worthy of shouting for joy.  Amen and Amen.

01-15 - Jesus in All of Psalm 22

          Last week, we saw that Jesus quoted the first verse from Psalm 110 to get the religious leaders, the Pharisees, to understand who God’s Messiah was.  In our reading Psalm 110, we saw that the Messiah, God’s anointed one to set things right, was far different from the Messiah the Pharisees imagined.  God’s Messiah came to bring righteousness and to bring people to God.  The Pharisees’ idea of the Messiah was that of a strong man and an able warrior who would conquer Israel’s enemies.

          Sadly, the Pharisees never came to understand the God’s Messiah foretold in Psalm 110.  I say sadly because the Pharisees, together with the other religious leaders, the Sadducees, along with the Herodians, and ultimately the Romans conspired to kill Jesus, without ever realizing Jesus was God’s Messiah. Earlier today, we read the dreadful scene of Jesus’ execution and death from the Gospel of Mark.

          Mark wrote, “25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews. 27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.  29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!’ 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him” (Mark 15:25-32).

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, ‘Listen, he’s calling Elijah.’  36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,’ he said.  37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last” (Mark 15:33-37).

The scene was gruesome and disturbing on many levels.  The inhumanity of man was on full display in taking the life of a righteous man, who was only guilty of healing the blind, the paralytic, the demon possessed, and the mute.  The man they killed that day was guilty of teaching his followers to turn the other cheek, praying for your enemies, and to love the Lord your God and love your neighbors. And for these crimes, the best and brightest in the land of Israel, beat him, whipped him, spit on him, and then hanged him on a tree.

But perhaps one of the most disturbing thing for many about the execution was what Jesus said.  Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Forsaken.  Forsaken is a terrible word.  To be forsaken is such a terrible state to find oneself in. To be forsaken is to have a sense of complete and utter abandonment.  To be forsaken, there comes a feeling of being isolated and alone, a sense that you have loss something you once had and cherished. 

“My God, my God, why – why have you forsaken me?”, words spoken by Jesus, seem very troubling.  Jesus’ words make us wonder and ask, “How could God abandon Jesus?  Wasn’t Jesus being faithful to God’s will and yet it seems that Jesus expressed a feeling that God had abandoned Jesus at his hour of greatest need?”  That very idea makes us then ask, “If God abandoned Jesus in his need, how can I trust that God will not forsake and abandon me in my times of greatest need?”

Theologians try to explain away Jesus’ lament saying that Jesus had taken the sins of the world upon himself and in that moment on the cross, as sin, God could not bear to look upon Jesus.  And so, Jesus felt God turn his back on him and in desperation and aloneness, cried out to God. 

I struggle with such theological reflections because they seem to set God at war with himself. Such theological reflections imply that God in heaven and Immanuel, God with us, on earth, although one, were somehow now at odds with one another.

I think there is another way to look at this scene that will lead us to a true and encouraging understanding of Jesus’ words from the cross.  I said when we opened that Jesus quoted the first verse from Psalm 110 to encourage the Pharisees to read what had been foretold about the Messiah. Now on the cross, desperate to breath, Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the language of the common people, Jesus’ followers.  And Jesus spoke the first verse from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I would like us to consider the idea that Jesus’ words were not a lament and cry for God at all, but were instead words Jesus intended to speak to encourage for his followers to find comfort in by reading all of Psalm 22.  Psalm 22, a poem, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ death on the cross.  What might Jesus followers, what might we find out about Jesus, if all of Psalm 22 was explored as perhaps Jesus was suggesting from the cross?  Shall we do look at Psalm 22?

“1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?  My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.  Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.  In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame” (Psalm 22:1-5).  The psalmist was reviewing the history of the people of Israel with God revealing that time and again God rescued and redeemed the people of Israel. And God did so even though the people had been sinful and had walked away from God.  Perhaps Jesus in bringing his followers to Psalm 22 wanted them to see and be encouraged that God had always been faithful and would be faithful in this dark moment.

          The psalmist continued, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.  ‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him.  Let him (God) deliver him, since he (God) delights in him’” (Psalm 22:6-8). Right away we see in the psalm the scene Mark described, “29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!’” (Mark 15:29-30).  Jesus, in turning his followers to Psalm 22, was helping his followers to see that the horrible scene before them had been foretold by God hundreds of years earlier.  If that was so, then maybe the entirety of the psalm would yield more of the story that was unfolding before Jesus’ followers.

          From the psalmist, “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.  10 From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.  11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.  12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.  13 Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.  14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.  15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.  16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.  17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (Psalm 22:9-18). Again, Jesus followers would be, and we are, able to see that the psalmist was describing the crucifixion of man with the elite among men mocking him with open mouths and villains casting lots for his clothing.  Moreover, this man, Jesus’, felt his heart melting within him, his bones were showing against his skin, all in the view of his own mother.  Jesus’ followers and we can see that the crucifixion of Jesus was not just some random act of violence.  The crucifixion of God’s own Messiah was known to God and the Messiah before God sent Messiah to earth and was revealed to the faithful long before the crucifixion occurred.  This must mean to Jesus’ followers and to us that God is present in this horrendous act scene.  He is not absent.

          The psalmist continued, “19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.  You are my strength; come quickly to help me.  20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.  21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen” (Psalm 22:19-21).  If the psalmist knew that God was present, then so too did Jesus.  Despite the cruelty of the cross that was killing the body, Jesus’ followers could see through the psalm, and we see, that Jesus’ faith in God as his strength, his rescuer, and savior never faltered.  The ancient and modern readers of Psalm 22 would then have reason to believe that something profound was unfolding in the crucifixion scene that defied the physical appearance.  There was a strength present.  There was an unbreakable bond in play that the faithful could know existed even amid the howls of the tormentors.  What could it be?

          The psalmist began to reveal that to us, writing: “22 I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.  23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!  All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!  Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!  24 For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (Psalm 22:22-24), The psalmist expressed the understanding of the man upon the cross, here Jesus, that despite appearances, God had not despised or scorned him.  God had not hidden his face.  God had not abandoned him.  To the contrary, God had listened and had heard the cries for help.  This is joyous news.  That in the darkest moment from Jesus upon the cross, God was embracing his son.  God had not turned his back on his son.  These two verses are important to us because they reveal that in our darkest hours, God is embracing us as any good father would do.  God does not turn his back on us.  God does not forget us.  God draws near to us to give us strength to bear our cross. 

The psalmist then closed the psalm with insight into what would happen once the ordeal upon the cross was completed.  This ending is perhaps would offer the greatest comfort to Jesus’ followers who saw in Jesus execution that all hoped had ended.  Far from it.  The psalmist wrote this is what will happen now, “26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him—may your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.  29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive.  30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.  31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He (God) has done it!” (Psalm 22:26-31).  The psalmist gave the prophesy that instead of the man on the cross, Jesus, being forgotten and forsaken, generation after generation would turn to him.  That the praises of Jesus’ Christ would ring out across every tribe and every nation of this earth.  That even those who are yet unborn will hear of the Lord and his righteousness.  Those who live and those who die whether believers or not will bow before the man on the cross, Jesus the Messiah, the chosen one of God.

How is all that possible?  Because “He has done it! (Psalm 22:31b).  God has done it.  God has brought glory to the name of Jesus Christ, the man hanging from the cross. God had not abandoned Jesus and Jesus wanted his followers to know that was the case.  Hence, Jesus spoke the first words of Psalm 22 in the hopes that his followers would find peace and reassurance.

We all need peace and reassurance that comes from the knowledge that God does not abandon or forsake those who seek him.  The best and brightest of Israel hoped that Jesus would be forgotten.  Jesus knew better and pointed to Psalm 22 to help his followers, including you and me to know that the name of Jesus shall not perish upon the earth nor shall the joy of knowing Jesus as our savior shall perish.

What cross are you carrying that has become greater than you can carry in your own strength?  Read then Psalm 22 and see Jesus in the entire psalm.  Take from the psalm the confidence that God will give you the strength and see you through the darkest moments of your life.  Do not give up.  Do not believe the lie that God has forsaken or abandoned you.  He has not and will not.  Amen and Amen.

01-01 God's Priorities

      We are all here today by choice.  We have each decided to come here rather than do anything else or be anywhere else.  Our choices represent our use of God’s gift to us of freewill.  God created us in His image and part of that image is the ability to make choices. Giving us freewill was essential to God’s overall plan for humanity, for without freewill we cannot experience God’s love and cannot love one another.  God is love but we cannot love God or anyone else unless we can choose to do so. You cannot force someone to love you or receive your love; it must be a choice.  God’s gift of love comes with the choice to receive it or reject it. You might be sitting there asking yourself, “What is this guy talking about?  Maybe some of you are now saying to yourself, “If I had it to do over again, perhaps I would use that freewill choice and choose to be anywhere but here!” Stay with me a few more moments and let me see if I can connect a couple of the dots together.

          You could have been anywhere else doing anything else today but you are here.  You are not here by accident or chance.  You are here by choice because the Holy Spirit has moved within you nudging some, encouraging a few, and perhaps even pushing one or two to be here because God wants you to know of His love for you and His desire to redeem and revive you.

      How then does God empower, encourage, and equip us for redemption and revival of our love for Him?  God does it by getting us to focus on His priorities, His plans, and His promises.  Let’s take a quick look at just one of countless examples of redemption and revival in the Scriptures.  Let’s look at the Book of Haggai, [Hag-e-i] Chapter 1, verse 1. 

      Haggai was a prophet living in the times of the Jews return from exile to Babylon.  Haggai was one of the twelve Minor Prophets.  Haggai began with these words, “In the second year of King Darius, on first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel [Zer-rub-a-bull], son of Shealtiel [Shawl-teal], governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jozadak [Ja-hose-a-dak], the high priest.  This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house’”  (Haggai 1:1-2).  Haggai reports here that God is aware of what is in the hearts of the people. Through their words and their lack of action, God observed the people who have returned from exile to Jerusalem had no heart to rebuild the temple of God.  The people claimed the time has not yet come to do that work.  We all have choices to make about our time and we all have a heart for something.  A study from some years ago, showed how the average America would use their time over a 70-year life span. Of those 70 years, we would spend:


Sleep................23 years

Work.................16 years

TV....................8 years

Eating................6 years

Travel................6 years

Leisure.............4.5 years

Illness...............4 years

Dressing..............2 years

Religion............0.5 years

Total................70 years


We all have a heart for something.  Haggai revealed that the heart of the people was not in rebuilding the temple because they have concluded it is not yet time.  Something else on their list is ahead of working on the temple.

      Scripture continues, “Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?’”  (Haggai 1:3-4).  The question asked by God reveals a contrast between His heart and the hearts of the people.  The people show energy and excitement in making their personal homes looking splendid, while at the same time saying, “It is not yet time to work on the Temple.” The question from God, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house [My Temple] lies in ruins?”  is not a question seeking information.  But, in this cases, God was seeking a confession. “Is it [really] time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house [My Temple] lies in ruins?”  The question was intended to cause the hearers to stop in their tracks and it creates that moment of very uncomfortable silence.  We have all experienced that moment when someone, a person of authority, said to us, “Hey, what are you doing?”  We freeze and become acutely aware of silence created by that question.  The Lord God has created that silence here.

      After a moment in that silence that can seem like an eternity, Haggai speaks again, verse 5, Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways” (Haggai 1:5).  “Give careful thought” comes from the Hebrew word, suwm, which means to turn your heart and mind toward something.  God wanted His people to consider what they have been doing and what had been happening as they sat in their paneled homes adjacent to the ruins of the Temple.  To us it might be as if we have been asked to look at the distribution of life in years spent sleeping, working, eating, watching television, traveling, recreating, dressing, and in practicing our faith.  “Give careful thought!”

      Haggai said in verse 6, “ You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (Haggai 1:6)  God was pointing out the people’s priorities, their choices, the things they value in life, were both self-centered and unsatisfying.  Just in case the message Zerubbabel [Zer-rub-a-bull], the governor, and Joshua, the high priest, and the remnant of people did not receive the message, Haggai said in verse 7, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways” (Haggai 1:7). 

      God was telling His people that they were not experiencing the type of fellowship He wanted with them because their priorities were misplaced.  God wanted to revive that fellowship.  God wanted to restore relationship with the people.  God wanted the people to renew their trust in Him.  If we want revival, whether it is personal, congregational, of our mission, and our ministries, we must make our fellowship with God our priority. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:38)  30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (Jn. 5:30) Jesus set the model for us in setting our priorities.  Trust in God.  Give careful thought to our ways.  God wants His people to come back to Him.

      What did God require of them?  Haggai continued in verse 8, “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord” (Haggai 1:8).  God had set work out for the people to do and it was God focused.  God gave the people a plan to accompany His priority.  God is an organized God.  God is creative and deliberate.  God has laid out the work that must be done.  The Scriptures are replete with clear direction for the faithful.  Jesus said, “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  There is evidence of the plan accompanying the priority.  Yet, God still gives us the choice to love Him and follow His words, or to do otherwise.

      Verse 12, “12 Then Zerubbabel [Zer-rub-a-bull] the son of Shealtiel [Shawl-teal], Joshua son of Jozadak [Ja-hose-a-dak], high priest, with the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord” (Haggai 1:12)  The people chose to set their priority and plans on God; the one true God in whom they revered and in whom they were in awe.  If we want to experience a revival of fellowship with God, we must have Him as our priority and follow through with His plan.  The Pharisees challenged Jesus about the work of God.  “ Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  Redemption and revival can only happen if we place our priority on God and our plans in the belief in Jesus Christ.

      Now some people might say, “Pastor, I have done those things.  My priority is God and my plans are based on the belief in Jesus, but I do not feel revived, in fact, at times I feel quite dead tired.”  If you feel like that I would suggest you consider two possible reasons.  First, are you tired because God is your priority, but you are working your plans not His? How many times do we pray, “God please bless us as we proceed with our plans to …” You can fill in the blank, we all have done so.  We are asking God to bless our plans and not to bless us as we pursue His plans.  God knows that if we in our own strength attempt to do what we want to do we might bloom for a while and then fade.  We do so because we carry the banner of God’s priority but raise it over the work we want to do.  Give careful thought and make sure you are carrying God’s banner over the plans He wants done.

      Secondly, and this will be my final point, we may feel tired because we are not connected to the power of God.  When the people chose God as their priority and they followed His plan, check out the power they received.  Look at verse 13, “ Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message to the people: ‘I am with you, declares the Lord” (Haggai 1:13).   14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel [Zer-rub-a-bull] son of Shealtiel [Shawl-teal], governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak [Ja-hose-a-dak], the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God” (Haggai 1:13-14).  When we take on God as our priority, follow His plan, then we have the promise that God is with us.  Knowing God is with us, then our spirits soar and we are refreshed and rejuvenated.

       Think about it this way.  Some years ago, there was a certain small rural town.  It was as they say a simpler time.  The electric company was installing power lines through the town – for the first time.  There was a woman in the town that lived alone and known to be quite frugal.  She surprised many when she decided to have electricity connected to her home.  A few months later, a representative from the power company went to the woman’s home to make sure that everything was working properly.  Before he went into the house, he checked the electric meter.  It showed that she had used an exceptional small amount of electricity.  He knocked on the door, the woman answered it, and the representative told her that he was there to make sure the newly installed electricity was working for her. She said it worked beautifully. He said he was glad to hear that but expressed concern that her meter showed she had barely used any electricity. She said she did not see how that was possible since she used it every day.  The representative expressed some surprise to her given the limited use recorded on the meter.  She assured him again, telling him that every day as the sun went down and it got dark, she would turn the lights on in the house and keep them on until she could get around and light the candles.  You see she was connected to power but she was not making use of the promise of light coming from it.

      Give careful thought! For our redemption and revival, we must have God as our priority, we must follow His plan, and we must be overjoyed by the power that comes with the promise from God, “I am with you!”  In Jeremiah, God said, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”  To Joshua, God said, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous.”  Jesus said to the apostles to make disciples, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  To Paul, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you.”  Let us not forsake the power in the promise of God being with us.

      Who then shall we set our priorities upon?  God’s. Whose plans shall we then follow? God’s.  Whose promises shall empower us?  God’s.  When we choose God, then we are redeemed, restarted, refreshed, renewed, revitalized, recovered, recouped, regained, resuscitated, and ultimate to revived our fellowship with Him.  Amen and Amen.