The Pastor's Perch

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20 Years On...

Regardless the hype of this day and all the dedications, remembrances and ceremonies, one fact fact comes through all the stuff: many suffered so long ago. And in the course of punishing al-Qaeda, many more suffered. Those included not just our service personnel and our coalition forces, but the non-combatants who got in the way. Now, even with a constitution guaranteeing some liberties, including a tri-branch ruling democratic republic, similar to ours, Afghanistan is ruled by the Taliban, or "Students", "Learners". They need their rivals, al-Qaeda to enforce and defeat the ISIS-K, yet another group with another agenda. I am sorry to digress into this history/political lesson. But it is one we do not learn well. 

What we were initially told by our political leadership 20 years ago was that we were after al-Qaeda and their masterminds who perpetrated the attacks of pre-9/11 and 9/11 itself. Uprooting a few plants unearths a plant so huge with roots so deep that it took at least a decade to get at one of the key--if not the key--people who started and continued this movement. But you take out one head of the hydra and two grow back. Our track record for hydra killing was short-sighted, but in the midst of all this, we were told that these people hate our way of life, our Western way of thinking and our incredible myopia. 

God has something to say about this, and His long game--longer than any political/military groups or movements is quite simple. We hear it from the voice of St. Paul in his second letter to Timothy, his fellow pastor:

2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 

While God desires all to be saved, not all will be saved because they will reject God's free gift of salvation through Christ Jesus. All we can do is pray to the Lord of the harvest to send workers to bring the Good News to some hardened hearts so that the Word, being worked into the hearts of many may bear fruit. God's grand conspiracy to save the world trumps all other conspiracies, because God is love and He shows His love in sending His Son to pay for the world's sin and bringing salvation and forgiveness.

We pray to You, O Lord, that You would reach to our enemies--not just political ones, but ones who hear the lies of satan and wish them to be destroyed. You will that all would be saved and come to believe in Your Son Jesus and His sacrificial death and resurrection for all the world. Help us to pray for these lost souls so that they may come to faith, believe by the Spirit's power and have the joy of those who see Your Love in Your Son. In Jesus' name, amen.

Help us...

Jesus is often seen as lacking in some things, like timing. He shows up when a person has been blind from birth (John 9); He shows up after His good friend Lazarus has been dead four days (John 11). And there are other examples of a seeming lack of sensitivity to people's suffering. Do not go there; He is always right on time.

In Mark 9, following the great revelation of His glory and Godhood and equality to the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus now goes down the mountain of Transfiguration and engages with the evil that has corrupted His beautiful world and all of us. He comes to a chaotic scene--which the devil loves--and comforts a father whose son is under the control of a deaf and mute demon. I do not know if you remember that earlier, Jesus healed a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment (Mark 7). On that occasion Jesus touched him, sighed to His Father in heaven and commanded his ears and tongue to be opened, and they were. 

With this son's demon possession, Jesus once again commands the impediment--the demon--to be gone. Before that happens we learn about a frustrated and sorrowful father who is helpless to stop the evil, which is bent on destroying his son. The demon even causes the boy to jump into water and into fire. He is at his wits' end and now, with Jesus' disciples, who earlier had been sent out to have the authority to cast out demons and heal people, he finds futility and failure. They could not repeat their earlier success. 

Simple: the power was not in them but in Jesus and His command given to them. They thought they had the power all the time, but that was given them to witness to the people of Israel that now her King had come and He was ushering in His rule among them and it would be a rule that would last forever and be centered upon Him.

The frustrated father is not faithless but says the he does believe but his doubts still cloud his heart and he is willing to trust the Lord, who responds to him: "All things are possible for one who believes.”

Jesus rebukes the demon and it leaves, but it does so violently, leaving the boy lifeless, so that everyone around believes that he is dead. Scripture is silent as to what state he is, but regardless, Jesus is there to bring new life from death, and He does what He does with those who have died: He intervenes and lifts them from death to life. It looks like this:

But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 

From death to life, and that is found in our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is our Resurrection and our Life, now and forever.

Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us to life here and in eternity. Bring healing through Your blood-bought forgiveness and cause us to live now and to eternity, for in You we have complete pardon and hope. Grant this, for while we believe, help our unbelief. Amen.

My Times are in Your Hands

King David confesses that God is in control of his chaotic and frenetic life, due to King Saul's murderous raging madness. The boss is a real murderer and sees David as nothing but a rival. Saul has also rejected God, so now, Saul thinks everything is in his hands...until the Philistines attack, and then Saul wants God to give him guidance. 

God is not a bi-pole switch that we can flip on or off. He is not controlled by us. If so, then really you are god and nothing will ever be in your control, unless you are very powerful and/or rich and can buy everything. Ultimately, we all die and who will see the paltry resources whose value changes with the whims of people's confidence and opinions?

As with David, we can only follow his counsel:

Psalm 31:14 But I trust in you, O Lord;  I say, “You are my God.” 5 My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! 16 Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! Amen.

Trouble with the Tongue

As a child I had the propensity for story telling and bird call imitations. Once, for Mother's Day, I had to tell a story about my mom. I was six or seven, and with five children, mom was too busy to cater to our every need. So, I conjured up a story which many people heard, but instantly knew was a...story. Fast forward to after our parents died, and I found mom's diary and read about this incident. Expecting to hear an angry rebuke withheld from me, I instead read about a parent who was grateful for a silly child creating a funny story that flattered her. I was the class clown of the family.

Let me be honest--I lied about something, but my mom, ever the one to put the best construction on everything, instead saw something of a future for me, perhaps as a pulp fiction writer or history teacher--I wanted to be a teacher at one point and even went through two years of teachers' college, and decided not on that vocation.

Now as an old man, I realize that telling stories at family reunions or funeral receptions is one thing; gossiping and lying to gain false trust or put one over someone or putting people in their place are evil. St. James reminds us so in his general letter, chapter 3:

James 3:5 How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Dear Lord, help us to tame our tongues and speak the truth in love; but help us put the best construction on everything, building up the whole church. Help us to put even the use of our tongues in the Holy Spirit's charge and be more loving. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Oldies But Still Good ones

Normally I would have an extensive look at some portion of next week Sunday's readings, but it is Labor Day, a day when I am not supposed to labor, yet here I am...laboring. OK, since you convinced me to take it easy, I am copying to you the links on my YouTube account for the Psalm and Old Testament readings here:[0]=AT38FyFapPTtHPGahGb1ItEnFCAHr__VfpNmKDHAxjMBaR4RYWdWAGj3pbzJAUxrNC5Uclj3CheSvov_xrNXkBOVNvt_zfUidijDaFIVb1SL3-b3g2lTZIoTCtyuKiWOubxH4IYHOHaSUZeKze0PCqJiCw[0]=AT16v3E3rkrg0WG2z2qjfwKtLUud5C3WDEGouv1N5eIoSIIMEglIOGNO6kgMnec1AxpGMi86CvIJFmgDLH4UBJOPVsnU3dFbIDLdREYha020Pow4LjjoTSsJEJZ485dkJ43K_qp3oiG2f6nT6yE

Blessed Labor Day to you!

Ephphatha=Be opened!

"Be opened!" Jesus commanded this to a deaf and mute man in Mark 7. He was not talking to the man but to his tongue and ears: they heard and obeyed. Often, people hear such stories and think that it only worked in the Bible or worse, the Bible is not truth. Too many times we are caught up in the lie that the Lord Jesus is not at work opening up healing today. We pass by so many miracles and focus only on the failures of life, usually in regards to health. We see the end of all things in life and maybe wonder about our end. 

The Lord Jesus did these things to show He had come to open up more than ears and tongues; He came to usher in His eternal kingdom and that He was in charge of all things. 

So what? What has changed? Disease, destruction, disorder and death are still around us and they seem to draw us into their swirling vortex, causing us to helplessly circle the drain so to speak, until we are taken down death's deep and dark void. Yikes!

And then the Lord Jesus reminds us that the void that was seen has another side; it leads to light, life and paradise. What we only see on one side leads to another, greater reality, one that has its own vortex that opens up to a greater truth: Christ has power over all these things and even death itself. His resurrection has destroyed death's ultimate power. His raising from the dead has changed the reality that even the ancient believers understood. They believed in a resurrection to eternal life and they looked for the Savior to bring this about. Being opened by Christ reaches to our very soul as we trust and believe in the One who does all things well for the sake of His beloved.

The One who does all things well has fulfilled all that we could not and we trust in Him. The One who has done all things well has brought peace and forgiveness to sinful people--the whole world--and covers their sins with His precious blood. The One who does all things well will one day claim all those in Him who believe in His forgiving sacrifice and seek Him daily in their lives. The One who does all things well is still doing them--for you. Ephphatha! Be opened to see and hear the Lord Jesus opening you up for His gifts.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.

The Only Scars in Heaven

The above title comes from Casting Crowns, a contemporary (although eternal in message) Christian music group, which after more than twenty years, is still mowing down doubt and uplifting faith in Jesus the Christ. It is a song that was sung in Job's time; it was sung in St. John's time; it continues to be the same song now. It is the song of a grieving Christian who has had to say goodbye to a fellow believer who has died, but they grieve in hope. They have hope because the only scars in heaven are the scars of Christ Jesus who took the punishment--our punishment--and conquered sin, death and devil for each and every one of us. Through Him we have complete pardon, peace and forgiveness. We have a future in His Kingdom which has no end. But right now we grieve. 

And we do grieve; there really is no celebrating a life at a funeral. You look down into that box that contains the shell of your beloved or stare at that urn or shoebox-sized container with the ashes of that person you loved and it is real--death seems to win.

And then we hear the Spirit-inspired creed of a believer who suffers great losses:

Job 19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!

John 11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother [Lazarus] will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

St. Paul reminds us:

1 Corinthians 15:51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to You, O Great Redeemer, for You give us the victory through Your life, death and resurrection! Comfort those who suffer now, who grieve now, so they may with hope and in faith, look to You through this life on this side of heaven, to the life that never ends, found only through You, Brother Jesus. Amen.