Mourn, 19 July 2020

Blessed are Those Who Mourn
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:3

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: We are blessed and comforted when we mourn and mourn with others.

NIV:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

NLT:
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

NKJV:
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

The Message: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

Think about your greatest loss. I know, it’s not the most uplifting way to begin today! Life is full of loss. It might be a job, your health, or your marriage. What is your greatest loss? Athletes might think of a championship they nearly won. Children might recall a favorite pet who died. What is your greatest loss? It might be a spouse or child or even your memory and mind.

As we continue our series on the Beatitudes,
Blessed, we’re going to look at what Jesus said about loss and grief. The subject is often dark, yet Jesus offers hope and encouragement for those who mourn, which just might be you at this very moment.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

We mourn our losses.

We will do most anything to avoid loss. Some professional sports teams have gone to great lengths to cheat in order to win games. The medical community has incredible tools for extending one’s life. We now have electronic devices to prevent us from losing our keys and computers. The only thing we like to lose is weight!


Yet our world is full of loss, which usually elicits the emotion of mourning. The original Greek word for mourn here,
pentheo, refers to the feeling or act of mourning or wailing.

Whenever I think of wailing, I think of one of the most famous sites in Israel: the Wailing Wall. It’s in the Old City of Jerusalem, also known as the Western Wall, the only remains of the Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 AD, the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray. It’s called the Wailing Wall because of the weeping at the site over the Temple’s destruction. More than a million prayers on pieces of paper are placed in the wall crevices each year.

Talking about grief, loss, mourning, and wailing is unpleasant. It can make us uncomfortable, yet Jesus calls those who mourn “blessed.” Last week we said this word, makarios, means “happy, fortunate, well off, supremely blest” which makes no sense to us, at least on the surface. Can you imagine visiting funeral homes and announcing to the mourners they are blessed?

Last Sunday I gave my rough definition of blessing:
having God’s presence and favor. I think we all want God’s presence and favor, but often we are distracted by other things. I submit to you anything you want more than God is an idol. It’s sinful. We can make idols out of good things: our children, our spouses and friends, food, pleasure, money, power, …just about anything can take God’s rightful place in our lives.

Sometimes God allows us to lose those things precious to us, not necessarily to punish us, but to draw us back to Him. These can be painful lessons, yet we are to live not for our glory but His. When God is all you have, you discover He’s really all you need.


I am not in any way making light of the anguish caused by loss. I’ve experienced some tremendous losses in my life and grieve them regularly, even events from years ago. But part of the blessing of loss is experiencing God’s presence and favor.

Psalm 34:18 says,

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

That sounds so sweet, doesn’t it? What poet wrote those words? They were probably sitting in a meadow on a sunny, spring afternoon trying to encourage a suffering friend, right? Hardly! This is the writing of David while he was being hunted by King Saul!

Psalm 34 is a powerful song of God’s deliverance in the midst of agony. The verse before eighteen says,

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34:17)

Perhaps most remarkable of all is how the psalm begins:

I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:1-4)

Remember, this is from a man fleeing for his life! David realized despite his problematic circumstance, God was present and worthy of worship. This is one reason we sing at funerals. We are to remember

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

This life is filled with death and loss. It’s the tragic result of sin. We’re quick to blame God every time we experience pain, but it’s in those moments where God is often the most real. We can—and should—praise Him in the storm, not because we like the storm, but because He is near, He is present, He is with us. He remains worthy. We might not understand, but by faith we can trust He has a plan. Unfortunately, we’re often so busy pursuing our own interests that we completely ignore God. We make life about us instead of about glorifying Him.

You were made by God.
You were made for God.
You were made for God’s glory.

Before we get too convicted (!), let’s return to our text for today.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

We mourn our losses.

The loss of anything valuable produces mourning. We need to grieve. Sorrow must be embraced. There are no—healthy—shortcuts. Jesus wept. It’s alright to cry, as the old song says. Everybody’s journey always finds its way to sorrow.

I get concerned when I see overly-happy people in the midst of great loss. Getting spiritual and quoting Bible verses won’t erase the emotional pain. We need to be present with our pain. We need to pay attention to those God-given emotions inside, like Job, David, Jesus, and so many others in the scriptures. Pete Scazzero writes,

´╗┐Limits are behind all loss. We cannot do or be anything we want. God has placed enormous limits around even the most gifted of us. Why? To keep us grounded, to keep us humble. In fact, the very meaning of the word humility has its root in the Latin humus, meaning “of the earth.” (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality)

We must mourn. We must be present with your grief. Failing to do so can have dire consequences on our health. Tragically, many numb their pain through denial, addiction, blaming, avoidance, or rationalizations. If we can embrace the pain and mourn the loss, we will likely discover God’s presence. He often shows up at the most unexpected moments. One modern translation of the Bible says,

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (Matthew 5:4, The Message)

Jesus doesn’t simply say mourners are blessed. He offers a promise of hope, a preferred future. They will be comforted.

Last week’s beatitude was in the present tense.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NIV)

Theirs
is the kingdom of heaven. Now. Today.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Jesus says those who mourn
will be comforted. Comfort. What a contrast to mourning! We love comfort. We love to be comfortable. We buy comforters for our beds. We enjoy comfort food.

The original word for comforted,
parakaleo, is from the same root as the word Jesus used when we promised the Holy Spirit, parakletos, the Advocate, the intercessor, consoler, comforter (John 16:7).

While I can’t imagine anything better than being in the presence of Jesus, he told his disciples,

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

We have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter living inside of us if we are followers of Jesus. God is with us…here…now! When we ignore our need for comfort, we fail to invite the Comforter into our lives and we miss out on the blessing of God’s presence.

Although we are not always happy, we can experience the joy of the LORD at all times (Nehemiah 8:10). We can give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We can be filled with hope knowing God is with us and we have a future with Him forever. Hallelujah!

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

The word “mourn” is used more than a hundred times in the Bible! The writers understood grief and loss! Paul wrote to the church in Rome,

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

We mourn with others.

Loving well means we celebrate with those who a rejoicing and we grieve with those who are mourning. This can be very uncomfortable. I think the most common questions are, “What do I do?” and “What do I say?” Often the best thing we can do is be present and silent. See someone else’s pain without trying to fix them.

In this pandemic, it’s especially challenging to be physically present, and sometimes impossible. Any message which says, “I’m here. I’m with you. I’m for you. I’m praying for you. I’m available.”

When it comes to talking, often less is more. Silence can be golden. Actions speak louder than words. And as I’ve said before, please avoid quoting Romans 8:28! It is true that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” but people need to mourn and grieve. We can’t rush the process. Grieving is a necessity of life. There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).

Funerals are the most obvious time to mourn, but we can grieve lesser losses, too. Even good things like a child going off to college or getting married and moving out of the house can be a loss. We lose our dreams, our youthfulness, our innocence. Acknowledge it. Share it. Tell God about it. Christian counseling and Celebrate Recovery Wednesdays at 7 PM can be outlets for grief.

We are all in the midst of a significant loss at this moment. The coronavirus has disrupted our lives, cancelling sporting events, graduation ceremonies, family reunions, and a host of other events. It has caused the loss of jobs, vacations, and even human lives. We need to acknowledge the loss, grieve what is gone, and comfort one another.

We mourn with others.

There is a Jewish tradition called shiva which is a seven-day period of grieving where mourners sit at home on low stools for a week following the burial of a loved one. That may sound extreme, but what a beautiful tradition! They say that time heals all wounds, but I don’t think you ever fully recover from the death of someone close to you.

Family, we need one another. We need to love one another well. We need to mourn with one another, rejoice with one another, pray for one another, and perhaps most of all be present for one another. Jesus came as Emmanuel—God with us—and when we are present for others, we become the hands and feet of Jesus. We are Jesus with skin on! What a blessing!

We mourn our loss.
We mourn with others.

One more thing…

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

I was surprised in my study to discover one writer who mentioned how
we mourn over our sins. We all sin. We rebel against God. We harm others. We create idols. We are prideful and selfish.

When is the last time you grieved over your own sin? Being forgiven by the work of Jesus on the cross doesn’t mean we gloss over our offenses. Sin means a loss of relationship, of intimacy with God and others. It means missed opportunities and blessings. Many of our sins have temporary or even permanent consequences which are regrettable. When we pause to grieve, when we repent, it creates space for God’s peace, and comfort to come alive in us.

When we celebrate communion on the first Sunday of each month, we remember our sins, Christ’s sacrifice, and amazing grace. We are comforted by the discovery and appropriation of God’s pardon. When we mourn our sin, we yearn for purity, righteousness, and godliness as we seek first God’s kingdom and follow Jesus. We all need to change. Something within us needs to die…so we can truly live.

We can mourn and repent not only of our own sins, but also those of our society. No culture is perfect. There has never been a truly Christian nation. It’s important to repent on behalf of our country, our lack of concern for the poor, our murder of precious lives through abortion, systemic racism and injustice, and other human activities which devalue or destroy God’s creation.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Family, it’s not about you. It’s about God. He is sovereign and in control. He gives good gifts and allows pain. We don’t always understand why, but I promise you He can be trusted. He is good and faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

If you are mourning today, I truly want to fix it and make it better. I want to bring back whatever you’ve lost, whether it’s a job, a loved one, a relationship, or your health. I can’t do that, obviously, but I can remind you God never wastes anything. Mourn. Grieve. Allow others to comfort you. Allow the Holy Spirit to comfort you, to strengthen you as the Latin root of comfort implies.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8a)

Ian Cron said, “In that experience of grief—of mourning—the presence of God is felt most acutely.”

Blessed Be The Name

Gerald Sittser notes the quickest way to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west chasing after it, but to head east into the darkness until you finally reach the sunrise (
A Grace Disguised).

Wholeness and healing are incremental processes. It’s a daily journey. It takes time. You’re not alone. You’re never alone. God is on your side. Your family is here—just a phone call away. We all mourn. Let’s mourn well. Let’s mourn with one another. Let’s comfort one another…and experience the presence of the Comforter.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.

Life-Altering Circumstances, 25 November 2018

When Life Throws A Curve (Life-Altering Circumstances)
D6 Series—When Life Gets Hard
Matthew 3:1-17; 14:1-12; 11:1-19

Series Overview: In this world we will have trouble, but we are never alone.

Big Idea: Although life is full or surprises, God is good, faithful, and in control.

So it’s officially the “most wonderful time of the year.” You know, that time when people jack up their credit cards buying gifts which will end up in next year’s garage sale. The season when greedy, selfish people feel generous for dropping a quarter in the Salvation Army bucket. The season when families gather only to argue about politics and eat more food than some small countries consumer in a year.

The time when your football team…oh, never mind about that!

I love Thanksgiving.
I love Christmas.

But despite being the most wonderful time of the year, for many it’s the most depressing, frustrating, financially-draining, emotionally exhausting, lonely time of the year.

My name is Kirk and this month we’ve been in a series entitled
When Life Gets Hard. We talked about broken relationships and mental illness. Jason, our guest from Indonesia, unknowingly contributed to our series two weeks ago when we spoke on failure. On this last Sunday before Advent, we’re talking about When Life Throws A Curve.

Occasionally we have open mic times when we share about God’s faithfulness. Our next such gathering will be on New Year’s Eve.

But imagine if we had an open mic to share about life-altering circumstances. We’ve all had them…or will. It might be a car accident (like the photo) but it could be a phone call, a conversation with a doctor, a letter in the mail, or even a text message.

What do you do when you life looks nothing like you ever imagined or hoped? Perhaps even more important, how is your soul?

If you ask God one question, what would it be?

One national survey revealed the number one question people have for God is, “Why is there suffering in the world?”

Some religions deny the existence of evil, calling pain and suffering mere illusions. Jesus, however, truthfully declared,

In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33b)

An Alliance pastor once said, “It is right that things are wrong in a wrong world. It would be wrong for everything to be right in a world gone wrong.”

Our scripture reading for today tells a remarkably vivid and tragic story of John the Baptist. Like Job and Joseph and other godly people before him, John was devoted to following God. If anyone “deserved” good things in life as a reward for his obedience, it was Jesus’ cousin John. Yet he was hardly exempt from suffering.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14:6-12)

It was bad enough that John was in prison…for speaking God’s truth (after Herod took his brother’s wife). I’m sure he never imagined being beheaded on account of a birthday dance! Although John went “to a better place,” it must’ve been catastrophic for his friends and family…including Jesus.

We all recognize ever since Adam and Eve sinned against God we have lived with brokenness and pain.

Great! So what now? What do we do when life throws a curve? Here are some ideas:

Recognize God is not the creator of evil and suffering.

Love always involves a choice. Free will. Entire books have been written on the subject, but suffice it to say satan chose to rebel against God and took other angels with him. From they moment, a spiritual war has been raging between good and evil, life and death. Spiritual warfare is real. We have a real enemy. He may not be red with horns and a pitchfork, but we are all in the middle of a battlefield.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

It’s easy to blame God for all of the problems in the world. Some simply encounter evil, blame God…and then stop believing in God. This makes emotional sense, but not logical sense. How can you fail to believe in someone you blame? Then again, the word “believe” has been misconstrued, especially in our use of John 3:16. What I do understand are people who followed God, encountered trouble, and removed their trust in God as a result. When you encounter the effects of sin, blame satan! God did not create evil and suffering.

God can redeem suffering, using it for good.

We were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. Life is not about our pleasure, but God’s glory. That’s hard for me to embrace sometimes—especially when life gets hard. I want to do things my way, but Dad knows best.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This verse has been abused perhaps more than it has been used appropriately, but the fact remains. God is at work when we submit to Him. Suffering is one means the work of God is displayed.

Earlier in Romans—as we saw several weeks ago—it says,

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

I admit I want perseverance, character, and hope in my life. But do we need suffering? I suppose I could also say I want a fit, healthy body, but do I need to watch what I eat and exercise? Obviously, we don’t choose suffering, but it’s a part of life, and it’s a tool God uses to shape us and draw us close to Him.

The worst pain I ever endured was a kidney stone. I’m told childbirth is bad, too, but you have less to show for it in the end!

A few years later, God revealed to me the purpose of my kidney stone. I was shocked, but I realized the one night of hospitalization opened up space for a conversation I had with a visitor, a conversation that greatly impacted the next twenty years of my life. Had I not been in the hospital, he never would’ve visited me and we never would’ve had that talk. It sounds odd, but I’m grateful for that kidney stone (and even more grateful I haven’t had another one!).

None of us has a complete understanding of our present reality, much less the future.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

We can pray not only for God’s will and glory, but an understanding of His perspective. The story’s not over.

Tony Campolo used to say, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming!” For many of us, today is unbearable, yet tomorrow may not only be better, we may come to actually appreciate our suffering.

Our temporary suffering will pale in comparison to eternal glory.

Paul wrote of his very serious persecution,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
British church leader Galvin Reid tells about meeting a young man who had fallen down a flight of stairs as a baby and shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life—and yet he made the astounding comment that he thinks God is fair. Reid asked him, "How old are you?" The boy said, "Seventeen." Reid asked, "How many years have you spend in hospitals?" The boy said, "Thirteen years." The pastor said with astonishment, "And you think that is fair?" And the boy replied: "Well, God has all eternity to make it up to me."
That’s perspective! Listen to these words of encouragement:
However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” —the things God has prepared for those who love him— (1 Corinthians 2:9)

I want to return to Jesus’ words in John 16.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus knows suffering. Jesus conquered suffering and death. He has the final word!
Jesus brings peace.
Jesus brings courage.
Jesus brings presence…through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus brings hope…the promise of heaven.

Count Your Blessings

We are all so blessed. The simple fact that you can understand what I’m saying is a blessing. The freedom to have access to the Bible, to be alive, to know about Jesus, to know Jesus…

Someone once said the only thing you can control is your attitude. It could always be better, yes, but it could always be worse. Count your blessings. Last week we looked at this powerful verse which is so convicting to me:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Pray with thanksgiving. That’s appropriate after this past Thursday, right? Count your blessings!

Don’t Go Alone

Get in a small group. Attend Celebrate Recovery. Reach out to a friend. Church is not a building. Church is not a gathering. Church is a family of messy, broken people pursuing Jesus Christ, the ultimate example of what it means to be human, and the one person who understands pain, suffering, grief, and loss better than anyone.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible says,

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

God created us for community. We need one another. We need to lean on one another, celebrate with one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, cry with one another, laugh with one another.

This is especially true at this time of year. The holidays are truly the most wonderful time of the year for some, and the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking time for others. Family, this season is a wonderful opportunity to give and receive help, to give and receive love. Let’s rejoice—and mourn—together.

Don’t Give Up

Research has shown often people quit right before their greatest breakthrough. No matter how you are feeling, not matter the challenges you face, or the pain you are enduring, you might be days or even hours from a miracle.

Jesus himself taught us to persevere in our prayers, to not give up. He said,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

What you might not know—unless you know Greek—is this is a conditional promise. It could be literally translated, “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.”

Keep praying. Keep praising. Even in the storm. I can tell you from experience God is good. He can be trusted. If it doesn’t feel like it now, just wait. Don’t give up. You may be on the verge of a miracle. And even if God says wait a little longer, He is near. His ways are higher than our ways. He is faithful.

It Is Well

Horatio Spafford established a very successful legal practice in Chicago. A devout Christian, he lost his fortune in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, shortly after his son died. He planned a much-needed rest for his remaining family in Europe in 1873. When last-minute business kept him in Chicago, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead with plans to catch up with them days later.

The ship was struck by another vessel and sank in twelve minutes. When the survivors finally landed days later in Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, “Saved alone.”

On his voyage to join his wife, he penned profound lyrics as he approached the area of the ocean floor where it was believed his four daughters had sunk.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

How is your soul?

Credits: some ideas from D6, Lee Strobel, In The Midst by John Stumbo

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Praising Him in Pain, 1 April 2018

Praising Him in Pain
D6 Series—
Songs from the Heart (Psalms)
Psalm 22
Matthew 28:1-6

Series Overview: The Psalms reveal hearts poured out in inspired song

Big Idea: There’s hope beyond today’s pain and suffering.

Video: Psalm 22
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TR5S08q_DII

I know, you were expecting happy music, dancing bunnies, and chocolate eggs on every seat. Isn’t it Easter? Is this an April Fool’s Day prank? Why are we focusing on the death of Jesus? That was Friday. Yes, but there is no resurrection without a death. There is no Easter without a Good Friday.

“Good” Friday is the day we remember the death of Jesus, a death prophesied hundreds of years earlier in Psalm 22, our text for today. Hearing those words again, it’s amazing how they were written generations before Christ. They so vividly describe the pain and suffering of Jesus…and apparently David, too.

Although some churches have an Easter sunrise service, on the first Resurrection Sunday morning, there were no Easter parades, bonnets, or celebrations.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1)

They were horrified to find it empty! Imagine going to a relative’s grave in a cemetery and finding the tombstone broken and nothing but a hole in the ground. That’s probably how these women felt.

What a week! First, they watched their hope of a savior die mercilessly on a cross without even a hint of resistance. Then someone stole the body from the tomb? We cannot begin to imagine the despair, the sorrow, …the pain.

I fear we’ve sanitized the Bible, telling stories to children as if they are fairy tales rather than real, raw accounts of people just like you and me who are altogether familiar with suffering and grief. David, who penned Psalm 22 which opened our gathering, was a real, historical figure with real emotions. He felt despair, sorrow and pain…and wasn’t afraid to pour out his heart and tell God. Likewise, the first followers of Jesus felt despair, sorrow, and pain at the beginning of the first Resurrection Sunday. It was yet another day to remember the loss of the One they hoped would overthrow the Roman Empire and save them. It was another hopeless morning of shattered dreams. It was another reminder of the horrors of watching their leader suffer and die, butchered and hung up for all to see, naked and tortured.

Whether you are a member here or a first-time guest at First Alliance Church, I know one thing about you: you know pain. We’ve all experienced it in the past, are experiencing it now, and/or will experience it in the future. Like King David—and Jesus—perhaps you have felt forsaken by God. You wonder if there is any reason for hope in the midst of your mess. Maybe this morning you’ve been feeling out of place, thinking you’re the only one struggling on a day when everyone is happy, happy, happy.

There can be no resurrection without a death—no Easter without a Good Friday. So before our party begins, we pause to remember the death of Jesus, the mourning that occurred both on Friday and Sunday morning.

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance, (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)

Today we remember the death of Jesus, following his instructions on the day before his death to take the bread in remembrance of his body that would be broken, and the cup in remembrance of his blood that would be shed for us. If you are a follower of Jesus, we invite you to eat and drink with us in remembrance of Christ.

Communion

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2-4)

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. (Matthew 28:5-6)

Can you feel the change in this room, the shift in the atmosphere? From darkness to light. From despair to hope. From death to resurrection.

Here’s the big idea:
there’s hope beyond today’s pain and suffering. I know in a group this size many of you are experiencing pain and suffering. Maybe this is your first Easter without a loved one. Perhaps you’ve been battling a physical illness. Some of you are in a financial mess with tax day around the corner. Still others are experiencing relational challenges. I get it. I’ve been through all of those things…and some are very real to me at this moment. Jesus gets it, too. Nobody knows pain like Jesus.

I believe one of the greatest obstacles to people trusting God is simply understanding how a good God could allow pain and suffering. If God loves us, why doesn’t He heal everyone, send angels to prevent drunk driving accidents, ensure beautiful sunny weather (at least on Easter!), and provide for all of the starving children in Africa.

I don’t have time today to answer every question related to God, but there are three things you must know about God and pain:


1. Nobody knows pain like Jesus.
One of his best friends denied even knowing him three times. Another friend betrayed him, selling him out for thirty pieces of silver. In his greatest time of need, his “followers” abandoned him. He was beaten. Spit upon. A crown of thorns shoved into his skull. He was mocked. And that was just the beginning. Crucifixion was the most horrific torture known in the Roman world. Even worse than the emotional and physical pain, Jesus bore our sins. He suffered the greatest of all spiritual anguish. This is God, choosing to die…not because you and I are good, but because we are sinners in need of a Savior.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

In most other religions, the god or gods are distant. They may live in heaven or paradise or someplace removed from earth. Our faith teaches that

…God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

Jesus entered our world as Emmanuel, God with us. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us

…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus was sick, tired, hungry, and was tempted. He spent 33 years on our planet experiencing every emotion we experience. And He knows pain.

2. God is with us in the midst of pain. I know, it doesn’t always feel like it. I went through a season in my life when I wanted to take the letter “Y” out of the alphabet because it seemed all I did was ask God, “Why?” If He was really with me, why didn’t He intervene, fix my problems, heal my daughter, fill my bank account, restore my relationships. As your pastor, I must say there are many things about God I don’t understand. I still ask, “Why?” But I’ve also learned that God loves us and can be trusted. He has His reasons, and often we just need to wait to understand them. We can trust God in all circumstances because He is the Sovereign Lord of all, which leads to my third point:

3. Your story is not over. Today you may feel like it’s Good Friday…death and sorrow. It doesn’t feel good because you’re the one being crucified, criticized, abandoned, abused, mistreated, or simply suffering. The good news—the great news—is Jesus didn’t remain on the cross. One of the distinctions between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians is Catholics often show Jesus on the cross, the crucifix. Most Protestant crosses are empty, reminding us that He is no longer dead. Our symbol should be an empty tomb, but that would be a strange thing to wear around your neck, I suppose! But today we celebrate because Jesus did not stay in the grave. The story did end on Friday…and your story is not over, either.

One of the greatest elements of the death and resurrection of Jesus is redemption. Redemption is clearing a debt. It’s buying one’s freedom. It means being saved from sin, error, or evil. Jesus died to redeem you, to pay the penalty of your sin, which is so radical it’s amazing. Christ is our redeemer. He bought our freedom…from sin and death. Before He died, he cried out, “It is finished!” It wasn’t a declaration of defeat, but of victory. The Greek word literally means, “Paid in full.” Hallelujah!

Jesus died, and because Jesus died He invites you into a relationship with your Creator. Because Jesus died, He invites you to repent—turn from your sins and pride and selfish living—and following Him. Surrender your life. Let go and let God.

Because Jesus is alive, He invites you to experience life that way it was designed to be lived, a life filled with love, peace, joy, and hope.

And make no mistake…Jesus is alive! If Jesus is dead, I have no hope. Dead people can’t do anything for me. The Bible says

And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. (1 Corinthians 15:17-20)

Some people believe Jesus didn’t die. If He didn’t die, I have to pay for my sins on Judgment Day which is coming for all of us.

Some people believe Jesus is still dead. If He is still dead, I have to pay for my sins. I’m hopeless.

But nobody ever survived a crucifixion, and hundreds saw Jesus after He died and was resurrected. They talked with Jesus. They ate with Jesus. They wrote about Jesus. They gave their lives for Jesus, refusing to deny the resurrection.

Jesus loves you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus wants to be your friend.
Jesus wants to be your king.
Jesus wants to be your God.

Religion is about doing things to earn God’s approval. Jesus flipped religion upside down. He did the heavy lifting. He died so you can live. If you could be good enough, he wouldn’t have needed to be crucified. Our faith is not about works, but rather faith, taking a step of faith and trusting Jesus to be the leader of your life, to be LORD.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

I want you to know my best friend, Jesus. I want you to have a great life now, and great life after you die. Jesus offers both. If you invite him to be your God, your LORD, your leader, he will show you what life really means. He will guide you, be your friend, forgive you of all you have done wrong, and give you peace…and love.

I know some of you are experiencing deep pain, loss, and trials. Jesus knows pain. I can’t magically fix every challenge you face, but God understands, God is here, and we are here…to love and serve you, to be the hands and feet of Jesus until He returns.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

We can praise Him even in the midst of pain because He understands, He is with us, and our story is not over.

Good Friday was agonizing for Jesus but good for us. He suffered and died for us. And Resurrection Sunday is good because of Good Friday.

Jesus is alive. Our redeemer lives!
Jesus is here through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is returning.

And now we celebrate. We praise. We worship. We party! Our Redeemer lives!

Credits: some ideas from: D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Grief and Loss, 1 May 2016

    Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief and Loss
    Series: Go Deeper
    Matthew 26:31-44

  • Series Theme
  • “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

  • The Big Idea: Jesus was a man who expressed His emotions of grief and loss, setting an example for us to follow.

  • Introduction

    We’re in the middle of a series entitled Go Deeper. Our lives are like an iceberg. We expose only a small portion of our real selves to others. Some of us live in denial about that which we know is true beneath the surface. Perhaps another way to say, “Go Deeper” is to say, “get real.” Get honest. Until we face reality, we will never be able to heal from the pain, overcome the addiction, or strengthen the weakness.

    Last week we talked about how we can’t avoid trials. In this life, we will and do have trouble. We want to go over, under, or around but we must journey through the wall. Despite the courage involved, there are benefits to testing.

    - God uses trials so we will look out…to others.

    The book of Romans plainly says

    Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

    We are to

    Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

    In addition,

    - God uses trials so we will look up…to Him. He is with us…always. That’s a promise.

    At the Wall, God asks some tough questions.

    “What would you do without Me?”
    “What will you do without My blessings?”
    “Will you continue to seek Me?”
    “Will you seek the ‘Other’ instead?”

    At the Wall we learn a single truth that gets burned into us: life isn’t about us; it’s about God and His glory.

    You were created by God.
    You were created for God.
    You were created for God’s glory.

    On the Other Side of the Wall

    The Wall always changes us. We can be bitter…or better. The Wall offers us an opportunity to move

    - From pride to brokenness and humility
    - From pleasure to appreciation and contentment
    - From impatience to patience, able to wait for God
    - From more to enough
    - From immaturity to maturity

    Grief & Loss

    When we get to the other side of The Wall, it’s tempting to ignore the grief and loss that often accompany such a journey. Adrian Rogers said that everything in life relates to sin, sorrow and death. How cheery! How true.

    Loss

    All of life is about loss. We lose the safety of our mother’s womb, youth, dreams, control, illusions, and ultimately our health.

    Grief and loss are done differently in various cultures and families.

    Two-thirds of the Psalms deal with grief. They are called laments. The books of Job and Lamentations are also filled with grief and loss.

    Scripture has been called the music of God. Here’s one famous passage:

    There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)

    Perhaps you were told, “Big boys don’t cry.” Maybe you heard the message emotions should not be expressed. Those are clearly not biblical ideas. Perhaps nobody demonstrated His feelings—especially grief—like Jesus.

    Matthew 26:36-46

    I think many people find themselves in the midst of suffering and wonder where they can find God, how God could possibly understand their circumstances, how He could just watch those He says He loves go through such pain and agony. He understands…and He is with us…always.

    Jesus’ followers were shocked to see the Messiah suffer, but His agony was prophesied centuries earlier. The prophet Isaiah said:

    He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

    That’s our God! He is familiar with grief and suffering, loss and pain. One of the most vivid examples is found in the Garden of Gethsemane, a place you can visit today in Jerusalem.

    Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38)

    Jesus knows sorrow.

    Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

    He pleads for Plan B. He wants to go over, under, or around this Wall. Luke records this moment by saying

    And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

    Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

    Last week we noted the value of community, of support, of family. What do you do when those you need most aren’t there for you in your moment of greatest need?

    He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

    He asks again for Plan B!

    When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matthew 26:43-44)

    Three times He begs the Father for a shortcut, for another path. He’s all alone. Can you imagine?

    Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:45-46)

    Jesus is depressed, distressed, and sorrowful. Can you relate? The book of Hebrews says:

    During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7)

    In the Garden Jesus falls to His face to the ground. He is prostrate on the ground. His sweat was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He is experiencing loss, preparing for the loss of His life and, even worse, the loss of His connection to the Father. He will become sin, taking our sins upon Himself. He will bear the wrath and judgment of a holy God. He will lose his friend Judas. He will lose the support of His followers who will abandon Him. His creation will crucify Him…all in the name of God!

    This is not an attractive image of the King of kings and LORD of lords!

    One element of the Scriptures that lends to their credibility is the raw, honest portrayals of the “heroes” of the Bible. The writers are never afraid to tell it like it is, warts and all!

    This is not happy, successful, popular, wealthy Jesus!

    This is our perfect model of what it means to be fully human.

    Reactions To Pain

    Divorce, death, breakups, failures, disappointments, shattered dreams, painful memories, and other forms of grief and loss invade our lives. Common reactions/defenses to grief and loss include

    - denial
    - minimizing (admitting something is wrong, but not acknowledging its impact)
    - blaming others (or God)
    - blaming yourself
    - rationalizing (offering excuses and justifications)
    - intellectualizing (analysis and theories to avoid personal awareness/feelings)
    - distracting
    - becoming hostile
    - medicating

    Many bury their pain of grief with addictions that are followed by guilt and shame as we lose control. It’s just like satan to tempt us into something, only to turn around and accuse us of the very action!

    PTSD

    These four letters together were not recognized until 1980 when the American Psychiatric Association added Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the third of edition of its manual of mental disorders. Grief and loss—especially if not processed appropriately—can wreak havoc in our lives. Traumatic events can impact us beyond our ability to cope…and affect us long after the experience.

    Biblical Grieving

    I want to offer a few suggestions to those of you who are grieving.

    Pay attention

    Don’t live in denial. Jesus was very real in the Garden. He held nothing back. His emotional burden was so great it had physical manifestations as He sweat drops of blood.

    Wait in the confusing in-between (Ps. 37:7)

    No matter what grief and loss you may be experiencing today, tomorrow is a new day. The story is not over. It’s SO hard to wait—for anything—but we can take hope knowing God is in control.

    Embrace the gift of limits

    In addition to loss, we are faced with limits in our life. Limits in our life include

    • - physical body
    • - family of origin
    • - marital status
    • - intellectual capacity
    • - talents and gifts
    • - material wealth
    • - educational opportunities
    • - raw material (personality, temperament)
    • - time
    • - work
    • - relationship realities
    • - spiritual understanding
    • - ministry

    Many of us find limits frustrating, but they are part of God’s plan. They cause us to rely upon Him. Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” God refused to remove. Undoubtedly it was to keep him on his knees, dependent upon God. Remember, life is not about us, it’s about God’s glory. When we are weak, He is strong and gets the glory.

    Climb the ladder of humility

    The word humility comes from the Latin humus which means “of the earth.”

    In the sixth century, St. Benedict introduced the idea of a twelve-step ladder for growing in the grace of humility. Here’s a modified version of it:

    Step 8: Transformation into the Love of God (no sarcasm, arrogance; content)
    Step 7: Speaking Less (“The wise are known for their few words”)
    Step 6: Deeply Aware of Being “Chief of All Sinners” (recognize our sinfulness)
    Step 5: Radical Honesty to Others About Your Weaknesses/Faults (quit pretending)
    Step 4: Patience To Accept The Difficulty of Others
    Step 3: Willing To Subject Ourselves To The Direction of Others (surrender power)
    Step 2: Doing God’s Will (not your own or that of others)
    Step 1: Fear of God and Mindfulness of Him (He is present)

    Where are you at today? I’m working on Step 1! Humility is a rare virtue. Most of us struggle with pride, manifested through arrogance or insecurity. Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. When our focus is on Jesus, we don’t have to impress others, mask our emotions, or fear failure. We don’t even have to be “successful” in the eyes of the world. We simply have to be obedient and faithful to God, His Word, and His will.

    Listening To The Interruption

    Jesus doesn’t deny his grief. Why do so many Christians?

    Jesus is real and authentic. He feels. He expresses His emotions.

    He listens to the interruptions of His life.

    Have you ever felt so bad that you could just die? That’s how Jesus felt.

    This passage is difficult for some people who want Jesus the superhero. For the rest of us, it is reassuring that He understands our struggles and trials and agony.

    It is human to feel and hurt. Jesus understands…and He is with us through the Holy Spirit.

    Resurrection

    The beauty of dying to ourselves is the opportunity to be resurrected in Christ. This is beautifully illustrated in the water grave of baptism.

    I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

    We continue to celebrate the Resurrection, not merely one day of the year but every day. Jesus’ story did not end in the garden or on the cross. Death always precedes resurrection and new life.

    Learning To Fall

    I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

    The trash of the grief may smell, but there are diamonds in the mess that God can use.

    When we listen to the interruption and learn to fall, our souls will enlarge.

    a. our self-will breaks

    Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)

    Jesus had a human will. He was fully God but also fully human. His humanity did not want to obey the Father. He did not naturally obey the Father. He wanted out. He submitted His will to the Father’s will.

    Jesus prayed three times for the Father’s will.

    You learn obedience through the struggle of grief.

    You lose control at the wall (last week’s message).

    Life is more than a series of problems we need to solve. Life is a mystery.

    b. we learn about prayer

    Prayer is the center of our life with Christ. David, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus grieved with God through prayer.

    c. we create space for God

    In emptying ourselves, we make room for more of God. When we give up control, we can lean into God.

    Questions for Discussion

    What does this text tell us about God?

    What does this text tell us about ourselves?

    What significant losses/disappointments did you experience

    • - when you were age 3-12?
    • - as a teenager?
    • - as a young adult?
    • - as an adult?

    How did you respond to each?

    How did your family deal with grief and loss when you were growing up?

    Share one recent loss in your life. How has it affected you?

    After leaving everything to follow Jesus, how did Peter react to Jesus’ shocking prediction in Matthew 26:31-36?

    What are some of the reasons that Jesus is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” in Matthew 26:38-44?

    How does He deal with grief and loss?

    Which of the common defenses do you use to protect yourself from grief and loss?

    The central message of Christianity is that death and suffering bring resurrection and new life. How have you experienced this? Be specific.

  • Credits and Stuff

    Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

    Series outline and ideas from
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

    Some study questions from Lyman Coleman (
    The Serendipity Bible and The Serendipity Student Bible). Used with permission from the author.

    Other study questions from
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Workbook by Peter Scazzero (Center for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 2007).

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • When Friends Let You Down, 6 December 2015

    When Friends Let You Down
    Series: Be Here Now
    1 Samuel 30:6

    Series Overview:
    Christmas is the celebration of “presence.”

    Big Idea: We must be present with and find our strength in God, even when friends desert us.

    Introduction

    This morning we are continuing our Advent series, Be Here Now, messages about presence—not presents you buy and wrap but presence—being fully present. Last week we noted The Golden Rule, Jesus’ timeless command to

    Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

    We’ve all been annoyed by people who are present physically with us but are in another place mentally and emotionally. Whether they are distracted by texts on their phone, yawning binges and fatigue, daydreaming, or multitasking, it’s frustrating and downright offensive to be ignored.

    It’s one thing to struggle for attention during a lunch conversation but quite another to be ignored or even abandoned in a relationship.

    Have you ever been deserted by a friend? Have you invested in a friendship only to watch it die? What do you do when you’re willing to be fully present with someone and they no longer show up?

    David

    One of the great things about the Bible is its authenticity. You can’t make this stuff up! Today we’re going to look at three biblical characters, one from the Old and the other two from the New Testament. The first involves David. King David is one of the most important figures not only in the Bible but in human history. He became the second king of Israel following Saul, famous for a battle won against a giant named Goliath, and—like all of us—an imperfect sinner.

    The book of 1 Samuel chapter 30 describes one of David’s worst moments as a warrior…prior to assuming the throne.

    David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day. Now the Amalekites had raided the Negev and Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, and had taken captive the women and everyone else in it, both young and old. They killed none of them, but carried them off as they went on their way. (1 Samuel 30:1-2)

    This is not a good day!

    When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. David’s two wives had been captured—Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. (1 Samuel 30:3-5)

    Imagine how David is feeling. His two wives—we don’t have time today to discuss polygamy!—have been captured. Defeat is visible everywhere. He’s desperate.

    Pause!

    Shawn Achor, Harvard researcher and author of
    How Happiness Fuels Your Success, says, “The social connection is the greatest predictor of long-term happiness by far…social connection is not only the greatest predictor of happiness, social connection is as predictive of how long you will end up living as obesity, high blood pressure, or smoking.”

    Connection to friends is the key indicator of happiness and a huge factor in how long you will live!

    What are the implications of that when we lose friends? Huge!

    I know what it’s like to lose friends.

    One of my very best friends drifted away, failing to return phone calls and showing no interest in me and our relationship.

    A few years ago after gently confronting another friend about his offensive behavior a similar situation occurred. Not only did he no longer reach out to me, he said things to other friends who stopped inviting us to social gatherings.

    There are other examples, but none come close to the intensity of David’s loss.

    Back to David!

    David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. (1 Samuel 30:6a)

    It’s one thing to lose a friend. It’s another thing entirely to have friends that want to see you lose your life! What would you do…after you ran from these angry men?!

    But David found strength in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6b)

    This is an example of a good “but.” It’s worth noting the word “LORD” is capitalized. This is the Hebrew word that is essentially spelled YHWH. We don’t know how to pronounce it because Hebrew has no vowels and because it is the holy name of God, the name spoken to Moses at the Burning Bush. To this day Jews will not utter the word because they don’t want to dishonor it in any way. The word “Adonoi” is a more common word for “lord” often used instead. “In English, the Tetragrammaton—another term for YHWH— is in all-caps LORD to distinguish it from Adonai.

    I once asked my Messianic Jewish rabbi friend about the pronunciation of YHWH. It is my understanding that Jehovah is grossly incorrect. When I asked Allen if it is Yahweh, he said, “That’s very close!” refusing to speak the word himself.

    But David found strength in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6b)

    This holy word for God describes Him as “I Am,” as the one who exists and/or causes existence. When abandoned by friends, David found strength in Am, in the LORD God.

    One of the great things about God is He never changes. Hebrews tells us

    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

    Paul

    Paul, once known as Saul, wrote much of the New Testament. In his second letter to his disciple Timothy, he writes,

    Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. (2 Timothy 4:14-15)

    Notice Paul not only acknowledges the painful loss of a friend, he offers a warning to Timothy. Alexander is not a safe person. Boundaries are necessary.

    We are to love all—look out for their best interests—but that does not mean we are to be best friends with everyone. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if Alexander was the only lost friend, but Paul continues…


    At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. (2 Timothy 4:16)

    Not only does Paul not complain, he speaks on behalf of those who deserted him, and then he offers a “but” similar to David.

    But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:17-18)

    Paul turns to God for strength, then seeks the glory of God in all things. Every story in the Bible is ultimately about God’s glory.

    Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. (Isaiah 26:8)

    He leveraged the good and bad for the glory of God.

    Jesus

    Our third biblical character was denied three times by one of His three best friends, Peter. He was betrayed by one of His twelve closest friends, Judas. I’m speaking of Jesus. As painful as those experienced must have been, nothing can compare to the anguish of being forsaken by the Father as He hung on the cross.

    From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Matthew 27:45-46)

    When David and Paul were deserted, they turned to God.

    When Jesus was deserted, He had nowhere to turn.

    After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

    “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. (John 17:1)


    Jesus died for the glory of God. Did you catch that? He died for us, but even more He died for the glory of God.

    In Jesus’ hour of greatest need, He turned to the Father. Where do you turn when you feel alone, abandoned, betrayed?

    So What?

    It’s impossible to be fully present with someone who’s not even there! The wounds of a friend run deep, and many common psychological problems stem from abandonment issues, often parents, but also friends. It takes years to build trust but only seconds to destroy it.

    This season is “the most wonderful time of year” for some, yet it’s the most depressing time of year for others. Loneliness can be deadly—literally. If you feel alone, I have great news for you!

    First, whether you know or accept it, you are a part of a family—the First Alliance family. You belong here!

    As I mentioned a few weeks ago, our worship gathering is not the ideal environment for developing relationships, but we have Sunday School classes at 9 AM and Growth Groups that meet tonight and throughout the week, both smaller gatherings of people who not only study the Bible and pray but do life together. I urge you to get connected in a small group.

    Second, Jesus understands. He was not only abandoned by friends, He was abandoned for a time by God the Father as our sins upon Christ were unbearable. He experience the ultimate pain, grief and loss.

    For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

    Third and finally, God is with you…always. We’ll discuss this further the next two weeks. One of the names of Jesus, Emmanuel, means “God with us.” Although Jesus is not physically with us at the moment, He left the Holy Spirit for all who believe in Him to experience. The Holy Spirit lives inside every follower of Jesus!

    Conclusion

    Relationships are risky. Friends can turn on you. Bonds can be broken. Such pain can make us bitter—or it can make us better as we run to Jesus, our big Brother who knows suffering and abandonment better than any of us could imagine.

    This Advent season and every day of the year let’s be fully present for one another—inward. Let’s we reach out to the lonely and needy—outward. And let’s reach upward to Emmanuel, God with us.

    You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here. You can subscribe to the free FAC Focus e-newsletter here.

    Traveler: Woman of Perseverance, 14 December 2014

    Big Idea: Mary persevered through not only a difficult journey to Bethlehem but a life of trials and suffering.

    Key Scripture: Luke 2:1-5

    Introduction

    Do you like to travel? What is the greatest place you’ve ever visited? Where would you most like to go?

    I love to travel. I’m fascinated with humans, especially those from other cultures. The sites, smells, tastes, and sounds of Israel are so different from South Korea, Toronto, and London (to say nothing of Columbus, Ohio!).

    I used to love flying. I still do, but since 9/11 TSA can be a hassle…and don’t get me started on fees for checking in bags, fees for carrying on bags, fees for reserving a seat, etc. Soon we’ll have to pay to use the toilet!

    The journey is important, but unless you’re on a cruise ship, you don’t travel for the journey as much as the destination. Business travel is much different than pleasure. Staying with family can be different than being in a hotel. A family adventure is different than a solo excursion. I once heard someone say a trip is with kids and a vacation is without kids!

    Are you traveling for the holidays? Where?

    Traveling can be one of the most stressful parts of the holidays—or one of the most gratifying. Strange relatives, icy roads, and uncomfortable bedding can make things challenging while joyous reunions, great food, and special gifts can make the journey worthwhile.

    We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born. I estimate there is a 1 in 365 chance He was born on December 25! We do know His birth followed a trip—from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a trip that must’ve been difficult for Joseph…and even more for Mary.

    In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
    (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3)

    Was this trip business or pleasure? It was certainly not pleasure! Caesar issued a census. Every ten years the United States has a census that helps obtain information about who lives in our country. It’s a simple form typically sent via mail and returned the same way. In the future, I’m sure it will be done online.

    Mary and Joseph were not as fortunate. They had to travel to complete the census mandated by Caesar Augustus (which means “exalted”), possibly the greatest Roman emperor. He instituted a republic form of government, expanded the empire to include the entire Mediterranean world, and led during the golden age of architecture and literature.

    The census was used for taxation and military services, though Jews were exempt from Roman military service. So they traveled to pay a tax. What fun!

    It’s amazing how God could use a pagan leader to bring Jesus to Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah 5:2…

    “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

    I love seeing Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in the New Testament!

    So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2:4-5)

    You’ve no doubt heard of Nazareth and Bethlehem, but where are they? It was about 80 miles—at least a three-day trip from Nazareth to the birthplace of David…and Jesus! That’s about from Ann Arbor to Frankenmuth.

    There is much we don’t know about the journey to Bethlehem, but it certainly required perseverance. It would’ve been less of a pain if they simply had to load up the car, make the drive, register, and return home but, of course, they didn’t have a car. We don’t know if they walked or used an animal (a donkey is usually depicted in illustrated Bibles). Carpenters often had a donkey to carry pieces of wood and tools so perhaps Mary didn’t have to walk, but it was not as simple as running up to the drug store and back.

    Traveling such a distance without an SUV with GPS and a DVD player would be long, tiring, and potentially even dangerous. You think our roads are bad? Imagine a rocky, hilly path that would make our dirt roads feel like glass.

    Are we there yet?!

    It wasn’t just a stroll down the street. Keep in mind, too, several days of travel meant several nights of sleep—either camping or from hospitable Jews along the way.

    Women 12 years of age and older had to register for the poll tax so Mary had to travel (she was obviously at least 12 years of age). She was from the house of David. Even if Mary rode a donkey, eight-plus months pregnant—simply to register for the census—must’ve been grueling. Not that Mary had a choice! Nevertheless this is but one example of Mary’s perseverance.

    So What?

    We don’t know Mary’s attitude toward the journey, but it seems likely she accepted her fate and saw this as just one of the many hardships related to bringing the Messiah into the world. Her song, the Magnificat—which we looked at last week—praised God despite the countless trials she would experience as the mom of Jesus. She was a woman of great perseverance. Her pregnancy was a social catastrophe. She became a young mom. She later experienced disappointment and even witnessed the death of her son. Yet she persevered. She endured countless trials—as did her boy.

    There are two ways we can look at trials: we can
    groan or grow.

    We are a spoiled, pampered people in this nation. We complain at the slightest sign of adversity, expecting to be safe and comfortable 24/7. We are told it is our right to pursue happiness. Jesus had a different message:

    In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

    That’s a promise—we will have trouble! As I’ve often remarked, I’m among the wealthiest 1% on the planet (not the USA, but the world!). You may be, too. Regardless of who you are or where you were born, you will encounter troubles because this world is broken and filled with sin.

    We will have trouble, but don’t miss the second promise: Emmanuel—God with us. He is always with us…and He has overcome the world.

    I’m both challenged and encouraged by these words from the book of Romans:

    He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:25)

    Therefore, since we have been justified
    through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

    Recently I heard the incredible testimony of former mobster Michael Franzese. He said he has experienced every conceivable emotion but one is far worse than the others—hopelessness.

    It seems odd that suffering would lead to hope, but that’s often the result.

    I’ve been amazed at one recent amputee and her attitude of gratitude for a surgery that took her leg (http://myelephantsintheroom.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/why-i-am-grateful-for-my-amputation/). If she can be grateful…

    During these final days of Christmas chaos I encourage you to count your blessings and seek God’s will and purposes in your sufferings and stress. Every day is filled with things that we can complain about and things we can celebrate. God is still sovereign and in control. He is still on the throne. Mary persevered through much because she continually trusted God rather than feeling sorry for herself. The journey to Bethlehem is but one small example of the things she endured for the purpose of bringing honor and glory to God.

    "Sometimes we think to ourselves, “I’m being obedient, so why aren’t things going better?” We face discomfort or inconvenience and immediately think either that we have misread God’s will or that God has made a mistake. But watch this quiet couple as they head toward Bethlehem. God did not soften Joseph’s bumpy road, but strengthened him. God did not provide a luxurious inn for Joseph and Mary, but brought his Son into the world in humble surroundings. When we do God’s will, we are not guaranteed comfort and convenience. But we are promised that everything, even discomfort and inconvenience, has meaning in God’s plan. He will guide you and provide all you need. Like Joseph, live each day by faith, trusting that God is in charge."

    - Life Application Study Bible, Luke 2:4-5

    May God be glorified in not only our praise and worship in the midst of blessings but also the way in which we suffer and persevere. This world is temporary and the best is yet to come.

    For Further Study

    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    Vision, John 9, 17 February 2013

    Big Idea: God wants us to see.

    Introduction

    There are several themes in this lengthy account. Religious leaders show their lack of vision while a blind man is able to see. The Sabbath, suffering, religion, and the influence of Jesus are all presented.

    Scripture

    As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (1-2)

    Some Hindus believe disabilities are punishment for sins committed in a previous life.

    The book of Job is clear about this. Though God does discipline those that He loves, often our pain and trials are not the result of sin.

    When our child was first hospitalized six years ago, there were those that subtly and not-so-subtly implied that her pain was the result of our sin. We were being punished for secret sins. My wife and I searched our hearts and came to the conclusion that if there was secret sin in our lives, it was so secret that we were unaware of it. We acknowledged that we were far from perfect, but there was nothing unusual in our actions that caused our child to be in excruciating pain.

    So why do bad things happen to good people? We don’t have time to fully unpack that question, but let me briefly suggest two things. First, none of us are truly good. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. Second, sin is the reason. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, all of creation has been a mess.

    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (3-5)

    Don’t misunderstand this text.

    God is not cruel, inflicting pain on people to glorify Himself.

    At the same time, God is not fair. Bad things do happen to good people. But God is good and He can be trusted.

    Daddy knows best…really!

    “So that the work of God” likely refers not to what precedes it but rather to what follows. See how different it looks...

    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus. “But so that the work of God might be displayed in his life, as long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (3-5)

    God did not make the man blind to show His glory.

    Rather, God sent Jesus to do works of healing to show His glory.

    I want to pause here for a moment because many of you are experiencing pain and suffering. You might not be blind, but you or a loved one are in the midst of a disability, a shattered dream, or an overwhelming trial.

    I’m with you!

    I’ve tried to take the letter “Y” out of the alphabet because I find myself asking it all the time. Why God? Sometimes we discover why, sometimes we don’t, but God can be trusted.

    Today I prayed for vision to see what God is doing. I don’t understand, but I know He is at work in and through me, my family, and the storm we are experiencing. I want Him to just change the situation. Sometimes He does. Sometimes He doesn’t. Daddy knows best.

    Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (6-7)

    This would not be my preferred method of healing! Spit was thought to be a curse. Jesus was essentially cursing the blindness. The man is healed. This is great news, right? The man was blind, now he sees. Praise God! End of story.

    Not so fast!

    His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.

    Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

    But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

    “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. (8-10)
    The people are demanding to know what happened.

    He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

    “Where is this man?” they asked him.

    “I don’t know,” he said.
    (11-12)

    The man didn’t know, but the entire Gospel of John is written so that we can find Jesus.

    They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” (13-15)

    Whenever the Pharisees are involved, you know it’s going to get ugly!

    Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

    But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.

    Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

    The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
    (16-17)

    This poor guy has been miraculously healed and all they can do is subject him to an interrogation.

    The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” (18-19)

    Talk about a lack of faith! They don’t believe that the man was ever blind.

    “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

    A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” (20-24)

    This is a huge deal! Getting kicked out of the synagogue was not like being asked to leave a local church. It was like getting kicked out of the city. Even today, the synagogue is not merely the place of worship, but the social center of the Jewish community.

    The Pharisees hated Jesus—as we have seen in previous weeks. They are jealous of Him and the crowds He is attracting from His miracles and teaching. The healed man’s parents are afraid.

    He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

    Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

    He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

    Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

    The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

    To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

    Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (25-35)

    We were all steeped in sin at birth, but the self-righteous Pharisees continued to believe that this man and his parents were responsible for his blindness.

    “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

    Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

    Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

    Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

    Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

    Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. (36-41)

    The story ends the opposite of its beginning. The blind man can see and the accusers claim to see clearly when, in fact, they cannot.

    The religious leaders that are supposedly righteous are filled with pride and envy while the supposed sinner is seen worshiping Jesus.

    Which bring us to my favorite question about any text...so what?

    Jesus healed a blind man and they both attracted self-righteous critics. So what?

    Here are a few things to consider:

    1. Suffering is part of our world. It is to be expected, yet it seems to surprise us.

    It all goes back to the Garden. Sin entered the world—not just Adam and Eve—when they ate of the fruit.

    2. We are addicted to comfort and safety.

    2/3 of the world suffers daily...constantly.

    This season of Lent and the very nature of fasting can help us empathize with others that have no food or those that are blind.


    3. Following Jesus often makes life more difficult, not less. Jesus said clearly to His followers

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

    Jesus never promised us safety and comfort, but He did promise His presence. He said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

    1. We need one another.

    It is a lie to think that it’s just about you and Jesus. We were created for community. I need you and you need me. That’s a message for another time, but suffice it to say that we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those how mourn.

    5. God may be seem distant or even absent in the midst of suffering, but He is always at work healing our inner lives (see Ephesians 3).

    It is through suffering that I have felt the closest to God. Nobody knows pain like Jesus. Nobody. The apex of human history was Jesus hanging on the cross. He recognized how we had messed up this beautiful world and He came to reverse the curse. He conquered sin and death. It’s hard to experience peace when you are comfortable.

    6. The more we can let go of the idols in our lives and cling to Jesus, the more joy we will experience.

    Some of us look to our health, our bank account, our careers, or even our family members to bring us joy, but Jesus said to follow Him means we need to hate our family and even our own lives in comparison to our love for Him (Luke 14:26).

    We need to live with our hands open—to give and receive.

    Song: Blessed Be Your Name

    7. The best is yet to come. Really.

    We live in the space between the first and second comings of Jesus. We have been given the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is powerful and active. God still heals the blind. There are documented cases all over the world. God still causes the lame to walk. I’m praying that for a special girl right now. Sometimes God says yes to our prayer requests, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have easy answers. I can recommend a pile of books. I can tell you to study the book of Job. I can quote you verse after verse of Paul telling us to rejoice, endure, and embrace suffering. I have plenty of questions myself, but I know God is in control, God is good, and God is faithful. This world is not the end. The best is yet to come.

    In the Lord of the Rings film
    The Two Towers, there is a famous quote from Sam in which he says,

    “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

    They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. What are you holding on to? Who are you holding on to?

    Open our eyes, LORD, to see You at work in and through our lives...for Your glory.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief And Loss, 29 January 2012

    Theme

    “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzeros’ book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

    The Big Idea

    The fourth pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is to enlarge your soul through grief and loss.

    Loss

    Adrian Rogers said that everything in life relates to sin, sorrow and death.

    All of life is about loss. We lose the safety of our mother’s womb, youth, dreams, control, illusions, and ultimately our health.

    Grief and loss is done differently in various cultures and families.

    Two-thirds of the Psalms deal with grief. They are called laments. The books of Job and Lamentations are also filled with grief and loss.

    Scripture has been called the music of God.

    There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

    a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

    Job

    Few understand loss and grief more than Job. He’s not the only one, though!

    Matthew 26:36-46

    Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38)

    Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

    Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

    He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

    When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matthew 26:43-44)

    Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:45-46)

    Jesus is depressed and sorrowful. He is distressed. The word in the book of Mark means horror.

    During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7)

    He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

    He falls to His face to the ground. He is prostrate on the ground. His sweat was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He is experiencing loss, preparing for the loss of His life and, even worse, the loss of His connection to the Father. He will become sin, taking our sins upon Himself. He will bear the wrath and judgment of a holy God. He will lose his friend Judas. He will lose the support of His followers who will abandon Him. His creation will crucify Him…all in the name of God!

    This is not an attractive image of the King of kings and LORD of lords! One element of the Scriptures that lends to their credibility is the raw, honest portrayals of the “heroes” of the Bible. The writers are never afraid to tell it like it is, warts and all!

    This is not happy, successful, popular, wealthy Jesus!

    This is our perfect model of what it means to be fully human.

    Reactions To Pain

    Divorce, death, breakups, failures, disappointments, shattered dreams, painful memories, and other forms of grief and loss invade our lives. Common reactions/defenses to grief and loss include

    - denial
    - minimizing (admitting something is wrong, but not acknowledging its impact)
    - blaming others (or God)
    - blaming yourself
    - rationalizing (offering excuses and justifications)
    - intellectualizing (analysis and theories to avoid personal awareness/feelings)
    - distracting
    - becoming hostile
    - medicating

    We love to bury the pain of grief with addictions that are followed by guilt and shame as we lose control.

    Biblical Grieving

    1. Pay attention
    2. Wait in the confusing in-between (Ps. 37:7)
    3. Embrace the gift of limits

    In addition to loss, we are faced with limits in our life. Limits in our life include

    - physical body
    - family of origin
    - marital status
    - intellectual capacity
    - talents and gifts
    - material wealth
    - educational opportunities
    - raw material (personality, temperament)
    - time
    - work
    - relationship realities
    - spiritual understanding
    - ministry

    4. Climb the ladder of humility

    The word humility comes from the Latin humus which means “of the earth.”

    St. Benedict’s Ladder of Humility

    Step 8 Transformation into the Love of God
    Step 7 Speaking Less
    Step 6 Deeply Aware of Being “Chief of All Sinners”
    Step 5 Radical Honesty to Others About Your Weaknesses/Faults
    Step 4 Patience To Accept The Difficulty of Others
    Step 3 Willing To Subject Ourselves To The Direction of Others
    Step 2 Doing God’s Will (Not Your Own Or Other People’s)
    Step 1 Fear of God and Mindfulness of Him

    Listening To The Interruption

    Jesus doesn’t deny his grief. Why do so many Christians?

    Jesus is real and authentic. He feels. He expresses His emotions.

    He listens to the interruptions of His life.

    Have you ever felt so bad that you could just die? That’s how Jesus felt.

    This passage is difficult for some people who want Jesus the superhero. For the rest of us, it is reassuring that He understands our struggles and trials and agony.

    It is human to feel and hurt.

    Learning To Fall

    I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

    Book by Philip Simmons, contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease at age 35.

    The trash of the grief may spell, but there are diamonds in the mess that God can use.

    When we listen to the interruption and learn to fall, our souls will enlarge.

    a. our self-will breaks

    Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)

    Jesus had a human will. He was fully God but also fully human. His humanity did not want to obey the Father. He did not naturally obey the Father. He wanted out. He submitted His will to the Father’s will.

    Jesus prayed three times for the Father’s will.

    You learn obedience through the struggle of grief.

    You lose control at the wall (last week’s message).

    Life is more than a series of problems we need to solve. Life is a mystery.

    b. we learn about prayer

    Prayer is the center of our life with Christ. David, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus grieved with God through prayer.

    c. we create space for God

    In emptying ourselves, we make room for more of God. When we give up control, we can lean into God.

    Resurrection

    The beauty of dying to ourselves is the opportunity to be resurrected in Christ. This is beautifully illustrated in the water grave of baptism.

    I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

    Jesus knows and understands life. He knows temptation (Hebrews 4:15) and suffering.

    Patient Trust

    Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

    We are quite naturally impatient in everything

    to reach the end without delay.
    We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
    We are impatient of being on the way to something
    unknown, something new.
    And yet it is a law of progress
    that it is made by passing through
    some stages of instability—
    and that it may take a very long time.

    And so I think it is with you.

    Your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
    let them shape themselves, without undue haste.


    Don’t try to force them on,

    as though you could be today what time
    (that is to say, grace and circumstance
    acting on your own good will)
    will make of you tomorrow.

    Only God could say what this new spirit

    gradually forming within you will be.
    Give our Lord the benefit of believing
    that his hand is leading you,
    and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
    in suspense and incomplete.

    - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Note: many ideas derived from Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituailty.
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