Jesus

Gathered Together

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So, yesterday I was grieved by our decision to keep the church’s doors closed for almost another month.

Today… I was not better. I woke feeling very down. I drove to church to memorize the sermon and record this week’s digital worship. And when I got to church… I couldn’t work. I couldn’t concentrate. There was only the desire to weep.

I stalled. I did some other things. Eventually I got to revise the sermon and then memorize it. I felt a little better. Being able to speak about Jesus and his forgiveness and love helps. But… I was speaking to a camera, not to my people.

But by the late afternoon, I was again in a funk. Just… done. My wife kicked me out of the house to just drive for a while, which usually helps at least a little. And it did. A little. (more…)

How do we respond to pandemic?

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Sunday we were still able to hold worship service at our church. This is what I preached:

How do we respond to pandemic?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) It sounds so good. Maybe you have it on your wall somewhere. Maybe you’ve posted it to social media. But the people who heard it first hated it. 

God’s own chosen people, the people he had set aside to be his own, had rejected him. Can you imagine how much that hurts? To be rejected by an entire nation? And God had sent warning after warning. “This is what will happen if you don’t turn back to me!” And the people hadn’t listened. So God drew back his protection, and the nation of Babylon conquered Israel. And God’s chosen people were taken into exile. And while they were there, false prophets were saying, “We’re God’s favorite! He’ll take us back! Don’t get comfortable here in exile!” 

And that’s when Jeremiah steps in and says, “No, you pray for the good of the city you’re staying in. God wants to prosper you… here. He wants what is best for you… here. It’s not where you want to be, but he’s giving you hope and a future here.” 

And that’s why the message isn’t nearly as comforting as you might have expected! But despite the fact they weren’t where they wanted to be, despite the fact they were torn away from what they wanted, God was working for their good. He used the exile to bring his people back to his side. 

And he’s working for our good, too. It doesn’t always look that way, though, does it? “I have plans for you.” Except there’s a pandemic. Except there’s shortages. We went to Aldi. Yep. The toilet paper was totally gone. I’m glad we have enough at our house! “I have plans for you. Plans to prosper you.” But we look around this world… this pandemic? The world is broken, isn’t it? But this wakeup call is good. It reminds us we have a home, and it’s not here. Our home is in heaven. So let’s not get too comfortable here, even as we’re confident God has good plans for us. 

So… how should we react to pandemic? 

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Don’t panic. Pray. 

Maybe you’ve seen some panic. Maybe you’ve felt it. There’s this pressure on your chest. Start hoarding. Are we going to have enough? What’s going to happen to us? Panic focuses on me. It focuses on mine. And maybe you hear that and go, “Well, good. I’m just thinking of my family!” Again — focusing on me and mine. My family? It focuses on what I need to do, or on what I can’t do. And panic brings out this terrifying truth: I can’t do what I think I need to. Panic makes us so, so small. Panic doesn’t help. 

I want to encourage you to do something different. I want you to pour out your fears. Be honest with them. But don’t turn them over and over in your mind. Instead, be honest with your fears and pour them out to God. 

A little bit ago we sang Psalm 65. What does that say? Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Do you hear that honesty? God, listen to me! I’m crying out to you! 

How about Psalm 13? How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. Notice how honest he is. “This is what’s going on!” And he struggles with his own thoughts. That sound a bit like panic? Like someone who knows he shouldn’t panic, but does anyway? But in the end he says that he will still rejoice because of God’s unfailing love. He knows that despite what it looks like, despite what he feels, God still loves him. 

Just speak what’s in your heart to God. Pour it out. He can handle it. So instead of keeping it all inside, instead of running that impossible emotional treadmill, let it all out to God. And God’s listening. Our second lesson said it bluntly: For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer. (I Peter 3:12) He’s listening. He’s paying attention to you. You’re not shouting into the void. 

But then don’t just pray.

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Ponder the Passion. 

When God created this world, he looked at all he had made and said it was very good. There were no diseases. Every body of every animal and human worked perfectly. Nothing went wrong. But when Adam and Eve rejected God, all creation fell under the curse. Now there was disease as a direct result of sin. Creation is broken. 

Can you imagine leaving a perfect place like heaven to come to a broken place where there’s not just sin, but disease too? Where you’re personally threatened by disease? Jesus did. Jesus was capable of getting sick. He felt the effects of sin. 

We don’t know if Jesus ever got sick, but we know he confronted sickness. You heard it in our Gospel: Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. (Matthew 9:35) Not just some of them. All of them. Every disease. Every sickness. And that was the beginning. See, Jesus came not just to take care of the problem of sin, but every symptom as well. And here he began doing that. He began wiping out disease. And no disease was too much for him. He wasn’t a specialist that said, “Yes, well, I can fix your cancer, but not your depression.” He could handle any of it. 

But at the cross, he dealt with what caused all of it. He took your sin on himself. And when he died, he really died. And when he rose from the dead, he conquered death itself. Sickness is not as powerful as death. If death itself couldn’t stand up to Jesus, sickness can’t do a thing. 

Now, you may have noticed. Jesus defeated sin, but there’s still sin here. Jesus defeated death, but death is still around. We will have sin until we see Jesus face-to-face. Unless Jesus comes back first, that’ll be after we die. And because of that, until we see Jesus face-to-face, we still have the symptoms of sin. We’ll still face death. And we’ll still face sickness. But they don’t have any power over us anymore. Sin is nailed to the cross. Now the worst thing that will happen to you is going to heaven. That… that’s something we can handle. 

It’s kind of like we’re in Babylon with Israel. God says he’s going to prosper us. Maybe it’s not the way we wanted, but he does have our good in mind. We’re not where we want to be. We want to be home with Jesus. But in the meantime, Jesus is still watching out for us. He hasn’t forgotten us! So when panic sets in, ponder the Passion. Think about what Jesus has done. How he has already defeated what’s scaring you. How Jesus is on your side. No reason to panic. You got Jesus. 

And when you ponder the passion, you’re free. You’re not thinking about what you have to do or what you can’t do. You’re thinking about what Jesus already did. What’s already done. And you see how far God goes for you. No reason to panic. You got Jesus. 

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Provide Peace.

So, Jesus heals every disease. And then he looks around and says, “More people need to know about this. So pray that God sends more people out.” And if we kept reading, you know what the next thing Jesus does is? He sends out the people that are praying. 

You can be confident in Jesus. He loves you. He has defeated death. And that means just like Jesus showed mercy on you, you can show mercy to those around you. You can provide peace to them. First, it means you don’t panic. You don’t have to. Jesus has it under control. The God who died for you still loves you and still holds you in the palm of his hand. No need to panic. If you find yourself panicking, go back. Pray. And ponder the passion. Second, it means you’re not going to look down on those who are scared. Why? You can totally identify with them, can’t you? If not over this event, then over something else! Instead of judging, show mercy on those who fear. That includes showing mercy on yourself. Again, pray. Ponder the passion. 

And then? You can provide peace. You provide peace by going through the proper protocols. You know what? God gave us soap as a blessing. And he gave us reason as a blessing. So if it means keeping from shaking hands for a while, then don’t shake hands for a while! If it means stepping back from seeing other people for a bit, what a blessing that in this era we have this digital way to be able to talk to each other. No, it’s not the same as being in person, but how much better than being totally alone! 

Provide Peace by seeing how we can love one another. 

First, here, among the family of believers. If you have needs during this pandemic, please share. Text or email or call me, so we can help each other. God gave us brothers and sisters in Christ not just so we can help each other, but so we can also be helped. Encourage one another. Text. Call. Let’s see how we’re all doing. We’re not alone. Christ has put us in a body to be able to lift each other up! 

And then we can also be equipped to reach out to those outside the church as well. Do you know that’s one of the reasons why Christianity grew? In ancient Rome, plagues ripped through the cities. Those who were able to flee got out of any city with a plague. But the Christians stayed behind. They cared for those who were left behind. And that love was noticed. 

Martin Luther did the same thing. The black plague went through Wittenburg. Luther chose to stay home. He opened his home to the sick. He and his wife took care of them. Luther wrote that if a Christian saw it as his duty to flee, as long as that person wasn’t abandoning responsibility, say, that person was a doctor, the Christian was free to do so. But he stayed behind to show love. 

Guys, in this pandemic, we get the chance to shine Christ’s love. We get to keep panic at bay by showing love to one another. So invite others in so they can know the reason for your hope, even as you support them. 

Jesus has this. He is with you even now. Even right now as this pandemic is ripping across the globe. The God who has holes in his hands from loving you so much isn’t going to drop you now. Don’t panic. Pray. Ponder the Passion. Provide Peace. 

Amen.

Review: Domesticated Jesus

Domesticated Jesus
by Harry L. Kraus Jr.

We’ve domesticated Jesus. We’ve made him a small, tame god that’s not able to protect us. We’ve made ourselves big and him small. But a domesticated Jesus isn’t worth our praise. He’s not worth our time. And here’s the problem: The real Jesus isn’t small. He is a mighty God that does protect us! In Domesticated Jesus, Harry Kraus looks at this abomination we commit ever day of our lives, who Jesus really is, and what we can do about it.

What I thought I was getting: A book that would look at how we domesticate Jesus, show us how Jesus isn’t domesticated, and that the real Jesus is so much better.

What I got: A book that touches on how we domesticate Jesus, and how we can make sure we don’t domesticate him in our lives. (more…)

“It brings tears to my eyes.”

 

photo of men having conversation

Apparently there are no pictures of two people just talking in a restaurant; every pic is either a business meeting or a date! 

He came in to church yesterday wearing a fedora. He actually looked pretty good in it, like he was about to go out swing dancing or something. I’d never seen him before, but he looked young – I’d guess older teens. I learned later he was 21.

I converted from Roman Catholicism, but my Lutheran church is too liberal,” he told me as he entered. “I did some research and saw that you were more conservative. So I thought I’d give you a try.”

Today we sat together over supper at a restaurant and chatted.

I was Roman. Traditional Roman,” he told me over chili-glazed brussel sprouts. “We rejected Vatican II. And I was really into it. I was at seminary to become a priest. But as I read more and more, I realized I couldn’t do it all. There was always this uncertainty. But I had some friends who had left the Roman church to become Eastern Orthodox. So I left seminary and tried that for a while. It was basically the same thing. And then I was Baptist, but they just kept pushing rules, too. And then I discovered Lutheranism.” (more…)

Review: Live a Jesus-Centered Life

5 Things You Can Do to Live a Jesus-Centered Life
by H. R. Curtis

You have seen how good Jesus is, that he loves a sinner like you. You rejoice that he died for your sins and has risen from the dead. But now you want to go deeper. How can you live a Jesus-centered life? H. R. Curtis tackles that topic in this excellent, short book. He encourages readers to go to church, go read, go pray, go work, and come home. He offers practical ways to do all the above, shows why they work, and how you can keep going when you fail.

I love that this book opens up with a very solid explanation: This is not how you get to heaven, and you don’t help by doing any of these things. All this is reaction to the fact that “It is finished!” Throughout both Law and Gospel are emphasized, too.

The book is also very practical. For instance, it walks through different ways to read the Bible in the “Go Read” chapter, and talks about how to experiment to find out what works best. The book also recommend a number of resources to go deeper.

In the “go to church” chapter, the book assumes that your congregation uses traditional liturgy. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it may make some difficulties depending the home congregation of those reading the book. That said, it explains why the classical liturgy can be so useful. I’m still not a “high church” type person myself, but this section is still very useful.

The “go read” chapter I found especially helpful. It talks about how to get a grip on the “big ideas” of Scripture, and how that help you understand what you’re reading as you dig into the Bible.

Now, the book has a definite audience: People who already know the basics of the Christian faith but want to go deeper. I would not hand this book to someone who was brand-new to the faith. It makes too many assumptions for knowledge level. That said, if someone does know the basics and wants to go deeper, the book is a home run.

I’m glad to have it on my shelf. Check it out if you want to know how to better live a Jesus-centered life!

Choosing Depression

Depression 5

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It’s a bargain. It’s always a bargain.” The man sighs. “I offer you a choice. Either way I get the better end of the deal, but you think you’ve won. And that’s the way it works.”

I won’t think I’ve won,” I answer.

You will. Briefly, at least.” The man raises an eyebrow. “Here is what I offer: I can take your depression. I’ll deliver it to someone who wants it. He’ll wear it around his heart like a necklace of bone and sorrow. But when I take it, I will take all your memory of your depression. You will never know what you have been strong enough to face. You will never know how much of your own demons you have conquered. You will not recall the darkness of your struggle. And,” he raises a finger, “You will never know that someone loved you enough to carry your burden.”

You love me?”

Someone must, to offer to take your depression from you.” He tilts his head. “Because depression cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be passed on from one person to another, until the end of time and the Dawn comes.” He wrinkles his nose at that word, but smooths it away quickly. “So yes. Someone is offering to take your depression. And all you’ve gotten from it.” (more…)

“Go get Jesus!”

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I don’t know.” She stares out over the river, her mind distant. “I mean, I try to do good. But my mind keeps on doing things. And I’ve done things.” She lapses into silence again. “I mean, I’ve done things that are bad. Really bad.” She looks down. “If it’s the Ten Commandments, if it’s really the Ten Commandments, I don’t know what I’d do.”

And I tell her.

I tell her it is the Ten Commandments. God says, “Be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy.” Jesus says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He says, “Do this and you will live.”

I really don’t have any hope, either. Not if it’s based on the Ten Commandments. No way. “The soul who sins is the one who dies.”

But then I point her to Jesus. “So, Jesus was holy. He was perfect. He really deserved life! And do you know what happened to him instead?”

She nods, a little hesitant. “He died on the cross.” (more…)

Surviving Easter

Depression 5

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Twenty-four hours ago, I dreaded Easter morning worship. It was coming. It was well-planned. I had practiced it several times.

I wanted nothing to do with the upcoming worship service.

The people. Oh, the people. I had been without rest for so long, it seems, and now nearly any interaction I had with a person for longer than a few minutes would bring me down. It wore at me so much that depression was able to gnaw at my soul.

And Easter morning? Do you have any idea how many people I’d have to interact with?

I braced myself. (more…)

An Easter for Introverts

Mary at the Tomb

Easter begins with a trumpet fanfare.

That’s the way it is every year here. A family here has three generations of trumpet players, and they join together in a beautiful prelude to our worship. It is loud and boisterous and wonderful.

Thinking about it makes me nauseous.

Not because the family is unfaithful; they are faithful in worship and growing in Christ. Not because they’re not talented; all three are different kinds of professional musicians. Not because I don’t like the arrangement they’re playing; I mean it when I say it’s beautiful.

I’m nauseous because I’ve OD’ed on people in the last month, and this last week and a half before Easter, it’s only going to get worse. See, when I spend too much time with people, I deplete my energy. And the lower my energy, the easier it is for my depression to attack. And for the last month, I’ve not had time to recharge.

As I think ahead to Easter morning, to the big smiles and the trumpets and the singing and the people and the crowds and everything – it’s too much. It’s too loud. (more…)

You didn’t forget me.

Jail

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The tears start the second she sees me. She was taken into custody yesterday. The reason doesn’t matter for now. What does matter is the shame that overwhelms her. What does matter is her fear of abandonment. What does matter is the uncertainty of the future.

And then she sees me.

Look, ain’t no one gonna accuse me of being pretty. My face does not bring joy to millions.

But today, it brought joy to her. She was not forgotten. (more…)