Sunday, April 28, 2013

Letters and Promises

This morning Robin was going to give a message for the children during worship at church.  Until she got sick, that is.  (Not real sick, just too sick to go to church.  She is beginning to feel better.) I subbed for her, and this, more or less, is what I shared with the children.

First I talked a little bit about letters.  Not the ones that we use to spell words with but the kind that we write to people.  Letter writing was once very common.  It was the way we stayed in touch with people we didn't see very often, people who may have lived a long ways away from us.  Writing letters was very common when the Bible was written and many parts of the Bible began as letters that were written by one person to some other people.  These letters were so important that they were collected and saved, so that we can read them in our Bibles today.

Then I talked a bit about promises.  One of the children told me that a promise was “When you tell someone that you are going to do something.”  And that is correct.  We tell someone that we are going to do something and then, later on, we keep our promise and do that very thing.

Then I told the children that the letters of the Bible, such as the one we were going to read from later before the sermon, are filled with promises that God has made to us.  I told them that it is good for us to read the letters over and over, so that we learn and remember God’s promises.

And then, reading from our daughter’s copy of the Jesus Storybook Bible, I read then a promise of God, written by Paul to the Romans, which says:

“God loves us!  Nothing can ever – no, not ever! – separate us from the Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love of God he showed us in Jesus!”

That is the condensed version of Romans 8:31-39, but it clearly tells a profound truth, a promise of God of His enduring and unfailing love for His children. 

And as my daughter leaned over to remind me during the children’s message, “God always keeps His promises!”

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

You never know

About 25 years ago I had a brief encounter with a woman at work.  I was caring for someone in the absence of one of my colleagues and this woman mentioned to me that over the noon hour she and her doctor were going to pray together.

She asked me a bit about my faith, which at the time was non-existent, saying towards the end of the conversation that she would be praying for me.  And when I heard that I recall thinking in my head “Go ahead.  Suit yourself.”  From my perspective at the time a person could go ahead and do whatever they felt like.  Any words that would say about me would have no effect or meaning for me.

That encounter came to mind after my wife and I read 1 Timothy 1:12-20 last night and I re-read the passage again several times today.  Verse 13b-14 says:

“But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

In this passage Paul is writing about himself and the grace that God lavished on him, even though Paul was about as far away from God as a person could be.  And Paul’s description of himself is something that I find applies to me as well.  I was ignorant of God and lived in unbelief.  I had grown up in a church and I knew about God, or at least some things about God, but I didn't know God Himself.   But God had grace that overflowed on me, giving me faith in Him through Christ Jesus.

Did those prayers offered years before on my behalf make a difference with God and His treatment of me?  I don’t know.  I do know that God works according to His own plans and agenda, in my life and the world, something I have seen happen over and over and over. 

So I am glad for her prayers and learning the lesson of lifting up to God prayers that seem to be the things God would want us to carry to Him, such as the salvation of those who are dear to our hearts.  And we can pray trusting that He will answer them in His time and according to His purposes, a sense of timing and purpose that will always be perfect.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach.  The text I used was Acts 9:1-6 and the title I gave my sermon was “The Most Unlikely Convert.”  The text is the conversion story of Saul.  I talked about how unlikely it was that Saul became a Christian.  I looked a bit at Saul from Acts 7 and 8, and also the accounts of his conversion in Acts 22 and 26.  The account in Acts 9 is in Luke’s words, while in the latter accounts Luke presents Saul’s conversion in Saul’s words. 

Saul calls himself the “foremost” of sinners.  And the evidence presented in the Bible demonstrates that by any objective measure he was a pretty bad man.  (In God’s eyes there is no gradation of sin.  All sin is offensive to God.  That is a topic for separate post.)

When we read the passage in Acts we see something pretty interesting.  Verses 5 and 6 read:

“And he [Saul] said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

Right there, in between the end of verse 5 and the beginning of verse 6, everything changes.  Saul has been taken from being a persecutor of the church to being someone who receives instructions from Jesus.  In the subsequent verses, and throughout the New Testament, we see that Saul has become someone who loves and serves Jesus with all of his heart.  He has crossed over from unbelief to belief, and he never goes back.

The other thing besides the simple fact of Saul’s conversion is that Saul was converted without any action on his own part.  Jesus never asks Saul what he would prefer.  Saul doesn't ask for faith in Jesus.  Jesus just inserts Himself into Saul’s life, and Saul’s life is never the same. 

In my sermon I talked some about the implications of Saul’s conversion for us today. 

But the next day there was the bombing at the Boston Marathon

The bombing was a heinous act.  People were killed.  People were injured physically.  People were injured emotionally and psychologically.  In our nation many emotions have been expressed, including outrage, sorrow, fear and calls for justice. Law enforcement agencies are working to solve this crime and bring the person/persons responsible to justice.  There have been calls to pray for those affected by the bombing. 

Amidst all that I have heard about the bombing over the past two days I have also saw a friend post this comment on Facebook:

“So, who is praying for the miserable bombers? May God redeem them and cheat the devil of their souls as He comforts their victims.”

I believe that this is a crime that will be solved, in terms of finding those guilty and holding them accountable.  But I am also joining in the prayer of my friend, and praying for the salvation of those who committed the crime, for no sinner is beyond the ability of God to convert to faith. 

Not the thief on the cross.  Not Saul.  Not even me. 

As Saul’s story reminds us, conversion from unbelief to belief is not based on merit but on God’s gracious work.  Every conversion story is the salvation of an unlikely convert.  And all who are saved are saved by God, through an act of His gracious, merciful love, to His eternal glory.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Giving blood

This morning I went to my local blood bank, which is more correctly titled a ‘Blood Donor Center,’ to donate another pint of blood.  I have donated blood quite a few years.  I started going just once a year.  I didn’t like the idea of a big needle being jabbed into my arm.  I still don’t like it, but for quite a while I have gone six times a year, which is the maximum number of times a person can give blood.

The donor center I visit used to have different slogans as they tried to encourage more people to donate blood.  One of my favorites, the only one I still recall, was this:

Safe…simple…saves lives.

Which is really true.  I learned through experience that donating blood is safe and simple.  I still don’t like the needle being stuck in my arm, but that is the only hard part.  The whole donation process takes less than 15 minutes.  And then they have snacks while you hang out for another 15 minutes before heading off.  When it comes to donating blood, getting to the snacks is my favorite part. 

And donating one pint of blood saves about three lives.  Here is a link to that fact, and many other tidbits about blood and blood donation. 

I think that saving three lives just through one donation is something that could be regarded highly.  And I could take the number of times I’ve donated, multiply it by three, and pat myself on the back for all of the lives saved through my blood donation.  But that isn’t where I’m headed with this post. 

Donating blood in the way I did, i.e. “Safe…simple…saves lives” brings to mind one whose donation was a completely different matter. 

The Gospel accounts make crystal clear the fact that the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus was anything but safe or simple for Him.  This is something that He was aware of as it approached as He prayed in the garden, saying in Luke 22:42,

 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

But saving lives?  That Jesus did, in ways that the mere giving of blood I did today does not, cannot, and should not ever compare.

Sure, lives may be saved through the blood I gave, but those lives are saved for but a moment.  The people receiving the blood I gave will die someday, and the giving of blood on my part, as meritorious as it could be made to sound, will not add one second to my life.

But the blood of Jesus, poured out for those who call on Him in faith, brings eternal life.  One passage, of several, that teaches this is in Revelation 7:13-14, where John writes,

“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Today I am thankful that Jesus has given blood, a donation that saves lives for eternity.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The photo is from the Mayo Blood Donor Center website.