Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sucking a good time right out of the room

I was a college freshman at 22 years old, after 4 years in the Air Force. In high school, I never took a foreign language. In college, I chose German as my foreign language requirement.

The Germans are serious and silly at the same time. They love to work hard and they love to have a good time. What I learned in German class was the Germans have a word for knowing how to have a good time. The word is "gemuetlichkeit". I asked the instructor why the Germans need a word like that. He said, “Because some people do not know how to have a good time.” As a twenty-two year old, I thought it silly but at sixty-two years of age, I have met more than my share of people who have no clue on how to have a good time much less enjoy life on the whole.

I was part of a business gathering recently. It was a good time of visiting and eating. We were enjoying listening to one of the women who stages houses for sale. She works with sellers to rearrange furniture, get rid of junk, and do whatever to help the sellers of the house put their best foot forward. We were all fascinated by what she did and how she did it. The good time we were having was literally sucked out of the room by a negative complain-about-everything associate. The complainer carried on saying “If you were to come to my house, you would have to bring the Goodwill truck.” This woman lives in a large home in a prestigious suburb where colors, carpet and furniture were all picked out by a designer. She carried on about this with the majority of the people knowing the truth; she lives very well. If the Goodwill truck were to come, they would make quite a haul.

As a result of her sniveling, the spirit in the room changed. We were experiencing gemuetlichkeit when she decided to indulge herself with a false pride, self-consuming charade. The rest of us knew different and it sucked all the gemuetlichkeit right out of the room.

We live in a blessed place; it’s called America. Most of us have never known hunger. Many of us have never gone to bed hungry or cold. None of us have gone naked except by choice. We complain about our life while we live in houses too big for ourselves. We have too many clothes for our too small closets. Food turns purple with mold in our refrigerator and we throw it out without a thought. How spoiled are we? And then we have the gall to complain when our furniture is a few years old. Come on!

Could we not enjoy each others company for a couple of hours without this contrived whining? Are you sick of this? I am. How common is it? I think it is very common. We complain about many things yet God has blessed us beyond measure. God is patient with people who complain about everything but there is a limit to his patience. He does not always tolerate ungrateful people yet He has been gracious to us. Numbers 11:1-6 says: “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them. The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost--also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’" Life is really tough, huh?

In Isaiah 5, Isaiah the prophet writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit about his chosen people who were blessed beyond measure. Look what happens to them beginning in verse 1 “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.” The one He loves, the nation of Israel, he blesses. Yet they are judged for their sin. (V. 7-13): "The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: "Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine, a homer of seed only an ephah of grain." Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst.” A sobering thought for us ungrateful whiners.

We don’t have to get drunk to have a good time. God is not against gemuetlichkeit but he is against having a good time without a regard for Him and His deeds. He has been good to us in word and deed, we must always remember that. May we not complain and grumble or wail. We would do well to stop our whining and get on our face and ask the Lord for forgiveness.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Unprepared Army

For about two years, I have been preaching once a month at Immanuel Lutheran Church in rural Annandale, Minnesota. We have been preaching through the first twelve verses of 1st Peter, Chapter 1. It’s taken us five sermons but that’s all right. Some of you are not surprised since I’m considered long winded anyway.

The first 12 verses remind us of who we are as Christians; in verse 13 of Chapter One, the message changes. To my unprofessional eye, Peter states seventeen things in these 12 verses about who we are in Christ. It’s an impressive list; it should make us dance.

In verse 13 it says, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action.” Peter writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit calls us to action. What action? How about getting our head screwed on right before we go to war. How about true worship before action.

Matthew 16:21-27 says, "From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 'Never, Lord!' he said. 'This shall never happen to you!' Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.' Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.'”

In verse 22 Peter says, "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Peter wanted his plan not God’s. This suffering and being killed stuff was not part of Peter’s plan. Oh, how unprepared and stupid we, like Peter, can be! Today we want Christ and our plan doesn’t include suffering and being killed either. No, we like Peter want Christ but we don’t want the cross.

We want the easy faith. Lord, don’t call me to suffer yet in verses 24-27 Jesus tells us we must deny ourselves and take up our cross.

Today, in the American church, are we prepared for this taking up the cross and following Christ? We like all the “benefits” as it were, of being a Christian yet we shrink from the ensuing battle and the sacrifice it will take to follow Christ. Peter knows what’s going to happen to him. Read John 21:18-19: “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" Tradition has it; Peter died being crucified upside down.

We are not prepared to fight much less have the basic truths of the faith rooted deeply in our mind. Peter waited for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was to pray and watch—he fell asleep. We have fallen asleep; we haven’t prayed; we haven’t watched. We wanted Christ, but please no cross for me. Brother and sisters, persecution is coming and we are an unprepared army. See 1 Peter 1, we are not ready to fight. Oh Lord, please forgive our slumber, may we watch, pray and worship you. May we fully understand your plan. Fill us with your Spirit. Prepare us for battle, root truth deep in our hearts and minds. Do not leave us to ourselves. Come Holy Spirit, come. Amen.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Illusion of Peace at the Expense of Truth

Jeremiah 6:13-15: "From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them," says the LORD.

Husbands and wives do it, businesses do it, churches do it, politicians do it, and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee does it. “Do what?” you say. We fail to discuss or confront thorny issues while portraying an illusion of peace. If we don’t honestly address certain issues in our relationships, we can continue to run the charade called the illusion of peace.

President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize much to the surprise of President Obama and almost everyone else. To his credit, he seemed uneasy with the whole thing. The Nobel Peace Prize winner supports abortion on demand, a crime of violence perpetrated upon the most innocent and helpless of the world. Let’s pursue peace but let’s have the honesty to tell ourselves the truth. We as Christians can no longer remain quiet on these issues. Many times we as Christians would rather hide behind the illusion of propriety (be seen but not heard; don’t rock the boat; we’re not supposed to be political). We also like the illusion of peace; we’d rather embrace the illusion of peace than address the harsh reality of the truth of abortion on demand.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” We are to live with a peaceable disposition to all. Romans 12:18 says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We are to demonstrate a strong affection for peace. The Bible also says in the last days there will be wars and rumors of wars” (Luke 2:14). Yes, wars will never go away until Jesus returns to establish His kingdom. Peace will never be found at a negotiating table in Paris or Oslo. True peace will only come when Christ returns. Yet we must have a peaceable disposition to all people.

You may say, “Jerry, you’re talking’ out of both sides of your mouth.” One place you tell us to be peaceable and in another place we’re to rock the boat.” For a moment do not confuse complacency with peace. We like being complacent; it’s pleasurable and convenient. Peace usually costs us something. We will not be held innocent for our complacency. Proverbs 24:11-12 says: "Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, 'But we knew nothing about this,' does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?" No illusion here.

In his commentary on Matthew 5:9 ("Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God") Matthew Henry says in part “Since God has declared himself reconcilable to us all, he will not own those for his children who are implacable (unmoved) in their enmity (hatred) to one another; for if the peace-makers are blessed, woe to the peace-breakers!”

The prophet Isaiah wrote the inspired word of God in Isaiah 5:20, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

The world loves a lie as long as it portrays the illusion of peace and furthers a larger agenda. It is fashionable in the elite circles of Europe to give President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize and all the while ignoring the truth of his support of abortion, a violence perpetrated upon the most innocent of us while they smugly enjoy the illusion of peace. How can we ignore this when President Obama, a professing Christian, supports and encourages these despicable acts of violence? Remember, no matter how despicable the acts of sin, the road back to God the Father is covered with Christ’s sin destroying, forgiving, and restoring blood.

God help us! Forgive us, for we are in deep trouble. Amen.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

God in the Background

And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.Acts 17:25

Have you had down days? Even so, we need to look ahead. We long for heaven, to be reunited with our family members.

We tolerate a lot of mush in the Christian church. We tolerate much about death and life in the hereafter. When I hear about people going home to the Lord, little mention is made of Christ. I hear a lot of talk about meeting up with our loved ones who have gone before us. That’s good in and of it self. I believe that will happen but its as if this is the Number 1 priority and once again, God is pushed into the background just like He is pushed into the background in this life.

Paul longed to be “with Christ”; he did not long for paradise, his mansion, heaven, rest, relief or streets of gold. No, he wanted to be with Christ. Philippians 1:23 says: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;"

In many ways we are like a 15 year old who only interacts with mom and dad when he needs twenty bucks. He has nothing to do with his parents unless he needs twenty bucks. This scenario is offensive to us but our lack of genuine love and affection for God doesn’t seem to raise our ire or fury. Do we love God only for His hand, what He can do for us? Do we love Him for the twenty bucks? We should love Him for His face, for who He is not just His hand. Do we love Him more so we can be reunited with our loved ones rather than just to be with Christ?

Is your relationship with God one where you push Him into the background of your life? Do you only pay any attention to Him when you need to be bailed out of a situation? Do you desire reunion with loved ones more than you love to be with your Savior and His Father?

True love in this life is when we love somebody for who they are (their face/heart) not for what they do for us (their hands). True love for God is when we love Him, totally and completely, for whom He is—not just what He does for us.

What are you longing for? Streets of gold in heaven? Meeting your loved ones in heaven? If we are longing for these things alone, ignoring the face of God, it may be time to sincerely consider the nature of your relationship with God in Christ. Don’t push Him into the background of your life. He alone is worthy to be praised; Jesus Christ should be the desire of our heart.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Our Self-indulgent Prayers

Ephesians 6:18: And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Emphasis mine)

I was called to be with a dear brother in the Lord who is struggling in his faith. Yes, we do have struggles in our faith. If you haven’t yet, hang on, you will have one. It’s all part of the Christian walk—tears mingled with joy; that’s life.

As we visited, another friend showed up. We listened, asked questions, and listened some more. Our dear brother said he was paralyzed by fear. David speaks of similar circumstances in Psalm 143. Later in Ephesians 6, Paul asks for prayer to preach fearlessly; two times in two sentences. Yes, he was fearful. He was not afraid of other people but afraid that he would not fulfill his task which was to preach the Gospel in spirit and truth.

Many Christians are afraid; some are paralyzed by fear; rendered ineffective. The devil likes this; another of his devilish schemes (“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.” Ephesians 6:11).

In this therapeutic age, we are asked to look deep within ourselves. Look for what; answers? I hope not. Deep inside of us is sin and to deal with that we need a Savior; only Jesus can deal with our sin problem. This can be scary stuff if we let it sit there and simmer, it becomes self pity. We live in a time of picking lint out of our own navel. This continual “delving” and “endless retrospection” makes us self consumed and afraid of the world and ourselves.

We are to go into the world and share Christ in word and deed. When we don’t share and we don’t go, we become self absorbed. Wallowing in our self pity, our prayers become self centered. We pray only for ourselves or we don’t pray at all. If we do pray, we only ask God “to do” and do it now as if he is our personal butler. Please God, forgive us.

Brothers and sisters, get up, put on God’s armor and go to work. Feed the sheep. It’s our job; live out your purpose. May we quit wallowing in our self pity. May our prayers be for the saints not just for ourselves; not demanding of God but asking in love and humility. Let’s stop this endless retrospection and the ongoing regret of the past. Ask the Lord to forgive the past and move on. Reach out. Pray for the saints. Live life with an outward focus; when we live that way, life is purposeful and exciting. It’s time to go to battle for the time is short.