The Mystery of Suffering

One of the mysteries of life is suffering.  No one likes suffering.  No one.  It’s awful.  It’s painful.  It hurts.  It’s lonely.  It’s just one of the awful things that we go through in life.

That we go through in life.

That we all go through in life.

All of us.  Me.  You.  All of us.  It’s part of the human condition. It’s part of the human experience.  It’s part of something that every last one of us walks through.  And it’s not just us.  It’s something out God, through Jesus Christ, went through.  Listen to what we read today in Mark 8:31-33:

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

3632426859_70b61ae665_b2Jesus teaches the Disciples that He must undergo suffering.  He had to.  It was part of God’s plan. It was part of His purpose on the Earth.  To suffer.  To die. And to be raised.  To ascend. And to one day return.

But to get to the good stuff (Easter, Ascension, Return), He had to go through the bad stuff (betrayal, mockery, and the cross).

The divine mystery of suffering.  I don’t fully understand it.  I really don’t like it. And I wish that I could keep those I love from going through it.

But in this world there is trouble and pain and hurt. And instead of running away from our suffering, part of the divine mystery is that God, through Jesus, entered into it with us.  So, even when we suffer, remember this.

God walks with us through it.  He has tasted it our pain, our loss, our hurt.  He has hurt as we hurt and wept as we weep.  We do not suffer alone.

And in some way, perhaps ways that we don’t understand right now, and may never fully understand, God will bring something good out of it. What is it?  I don’t know. But I know out of the suffering of the cross, God brought the empty grave.  I know out of this pain that we go through, God will bring something good out of it.

The power of God is not that He stops bad things from happening. The power of God is that He can bring good out of anything.

In suffering, we hold on.  He gives us grace. And we trust.

Today, to all those that are suffering, we pray peace.  And mercy. And strength. And hope.  May you feel the arms of your saviour wrapped tight around you, whispering you are not alone.  And may you feel and see His church walking with you every step of the way.

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Different Plans

You ever felt like there was something that you really wanted to do, maybe even something you needed to do, and you weren’t able to do it?  Maybe things came up and kept you from doing it.  It could have been a million different reasons, a million different things.

But for whatever reason, it doesn’t happen.  We’ve all be there.  We really have been.  It can be frustrating when God has different plans.  Listen to what happened to David today in 2 Samuel 7:4-6,12-13:

4 But that same night came to Nathan:5Go and tell my servant David:Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. . . . 12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever

man-thinkingDavid wants to build God a Temple.  You know what? That’s a good idea. That’s a good thing. David says it’s not right for him to have a beautiful house, while God’s Ark of the Covenant stays in a tent.  That’s just not right, and he wants to do something about it.  So he wants to build a Temple.

All sounds good.  But God says no.  That’s not his place, that’s not his calling.  One will come after him that will build that Temple for God.  But that person will not be David.

God had different plans.  God had better plans; even better than David’s dreams.

Here’s the thing.  God’s plans for your life are better than your dreams for your like.  No matter what it is that you think is best or we think that we want to do, trust me, what God wants is better.

We just have to trust, especially when it doesn’t make sense.

God’s plans for your life are better than your dreams for your life.  Trust in His plans, even when they are different plans.

God knows what He is doing.  May we have faith to hold on, even when aren’t sure of what He is doing.  May we trust, even with those different plans.

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They are Listening

One of my coaches at Bogue Chitto said something in an FCA event that has stuck with me through these years.  Coach Micky Myers said – “your life may be the only Bible someone ever reads.”  I’ve always thought about that, how I live, how I act, how I react, those actions say so very much about who God is, how He loves, how we cares, how He wants to know all people.

As believers this morning, as those that follow God, people are watching us today, to see how we react to life and circumstance.  People are paying attention. The are listening.

I was thinking about that this morning as I read one of our texts today, Acts 16: 25-31.  Listen to what it says:

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ 31They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’

Paul_and_Silas_in_Jail_1337-225There are no unimportant words in the Bible. Everything there has a meaning or a purpose. So today as I read, what stood out to me was the end of verse 25 “and the prisoners were listening to them.”  Luke (the author of Acts) didn’t have to include the fact that the other prisoners were listening to Paul and Silas singing hymns.  It wasn’t really “important” to what was happening. That’s what we tell ourselves.

But, it’s in the Bible.  So do it does matter.  So what does it tell us today?

They were listening to Paul and Silas sing. They were in prison.  It was awful.  It was terrible.  It was not a good place to be.  And what did the other prisoners here in that moment?  Faith.  Hope.  Believe

They were listening to Paul and Silas.  They wanted to know if their faith was real, was it something that truly matter when times got to.  And I believe, they really wanted to believe.  They wanted that faith. They were listening to see if it was real.

The world is listening to us today. They are listening.  They are paying attention to what we do; to what we say; to what we live.

They want to know that we really, actually believe what we say that we believe.  They want to know that we mean it.  In a world that is changing and so temporal, they really want to know that we actually believe what we say that we believe.

They are listening. Today, what do they hear from us?

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In the Morning

Sometimes we are in a storm that we feel will never get better.  Sometimes the waves seem too high, the troubles seem too deep, the worries seem too much.

Sometimes there is weeping. And we feel like the weeping will never end.  It will never get better. It will never stop.  It will never change.  But know this. It will.  The weeping will not last forever.  The troubles will not stay forever.  The pain will not stay forever.

Listen to what we are told today in Psalm 30: 4-5:

4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

urlWeeping may come in the night. But joy will come in the morning.  It will get better.  It will.

The darkness will not last forever.  When we are in the middle of it, we may think that it will never end.  We may think that it will never get better.  But it will.

You may be in pain now.  You may be in trouble now.  You may be in the middle of a storm now.  Your tears may not stop now.

We all know that feeling.  We’ve all been there.  It hurts.  And not much makes it feel better in that moment.  No matter what you may be going through, you may feel like it will never get better.

It will.  Listen to God’s Word this morning.  It will.  Weeping may linger for the night.

But Joy comes in the morning.

Today, if you are in the night of your tears, hold on.  Morning is coming.  It is.  Morning is coming.  And joys comes then.

Hold tight to God.  He will not let you go.  And His joy will come.

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The Forgotten Commandment

I’m a fan of checklists.  I always like to know what I’ve got to do, when I’ve got to be somewhere, what is on my plate for that moment.  I’m always looking to what is next.  That’s just how I’m wired.  Believe me, I’m not saying it’s good, I’m just saying it’s how I’m wired.

And today, as busy as many of us are, even if we aren’t wired like that, it’s sort of how we feel, isn’t it?  Even if we don’t want to go, go, go, go, we feel like our schedules, our lives, all that’s going on makes us that way.  That’s sort of modern life today.  Or at least that’s how it feels.

I think today that we can learn a lot from what happens in Mark 6:30-31.  Listen to what it says:

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

rest-and-recoveryJesus had sent the Disciples out on a task, they had a lot that they were called to do for Him. They come back, they are excited, but they had been going, going, going, going.  And what does He tell them to do?

Come away and rest.

When was the last time you rested?  I mean, really?  When was the last time you let the concerns of work, of school, of life, of family, of everything, just go, if just for a moment, and rested.

We can’t go all the time.  Remember one of the Ten Commandments is to keep the Sabbath.  We have got to have times of rest.  We must.  We have do. We can’t go all the time.

Jesus understood it.

He made the Disciples live it.

What about us?  Do we live out this forgotten commandment?  Now, believe me, this is a do what I say, not what I do.  You can ask my wife, I struggle with this.  But the older I get, the more I’m learning that I can go and go and go without taking that rest.

So today, take some Sabbath.  Catch your breath.  Rest.  Trust.  Hope.

You can rest.  God has it all under control.  You can trust that.  He’s got it.  Remember that forgotten commandment.  Take Sabbath.  Take rest. And see how God uses it in our lives.

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I mentioned last week in my sermon here at St. Matthew’s that I really love the book of Psalms. They are honest, they are beautiful and they speak to the heart, and come from the heart.  They really are some of the most powerful words on all the scripture.

So, often when I am reading the texts for each day, my eyes are drawn to whatever the Psalms for the day may be.  Today was Psalm 37.  Something about verses 7-9 caught me today:

7 Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

Two times it mentions, do not fret. Do not get anxious.  Do not get all roiled up.  Just breath.  Relax.  It’s ok.  It is.  Just take a moment and breath and breath out.

Why?  Why shouldn’t we get all kinds of anxious?  Don’t you know what’s happening in the world?  Don’t you know what’s happening in my life?

Sure, lots of things are going on.  But here’s why we shouldn’t fret.

confidenceFirst, we don’t need to get anxious because of what that produces.  “Do not fret – it leads only to evil.”  Think about how much evil, how much done wrong, how much that causes pain to others comes out of worry and fear.

Fear is a dangerous thing.  Fear leads us to do things we normally wouldn’t do.

As Christians, as the church, we can’t and we shouldn’t be fearful.  First, because it can cause us to act in ways that just aren’t Christian.  Fear affects our tongue.  It affects our actions.  It affects so many things.  Don’t fret – it leads only to evil.

And second we shouldn’t fret because we know who is in control.  God is not surprised by anything that happens in our lives; He is not surprised by anything that happens in the world.  He has it.  Seriously.  Don’t fret.  Don’t be afraid.  Don’t worry.  It’s ok.

Live a life guided by confidence in God, not shaken by the fear of the unknown, or even the known.  Don’t fret. Trust.  Obey.  It’s ok.  God has it.  Be faithful.  He’ll take care of the rest.

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Like a Magnet

I heard a speaker say once if you to really change your life, read a Gospel.  Really sit down and read it. Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  Take one, read through it, and see what you didn’t see before.  Don’t just take other’s words for who Jesus is, but dig down yourself, read the Gospel, see what He did and see what it means to you.

It really will change your life.  By the way, not for nothing, when folks ask me where they should start reading the Bible at, I always say Mark.  It’s a Gospel, it’s the shortest, and in many ways the easiest to understand.  So if you are looking to start reading the Bible, or start specifically with a Gospel, start with Mark.

Today, something really jumped out to me in our reading from Mark 2: 14-17:

14 As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples – for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

screws-stuck-to-ring-magnetHere’s what always amazes me about Jesus.  People that weren’t “righteous” those that were called “sinners” they were drawn to Him like a magnet. They wanted to be around Him.  They wanted to know Him.  They wanted to be in relationship with Him.

They ate with Him. The invited Him to their homes, where He ate with them.  There was something about Him, something about this Jesus that drew “sinners” to Him.  (I’m putting sinners in quotation marks, because we are all sinners needing grace.  Me, you, everyone.  And that’s ok, He came to give us that grace.)

So this where that passage leaves me.  What about us?  What us that are believers?  Are lost folk drawn to us?  Are sinners draw to us?  Do folks that don’t know Jesus, do they want to be around us like they did around Jesus?

Folks were drawn to Jesus like a magnet.  What about us?  Are we living out His grace, allowing His grace to shine through us in powerful ways that folks who don’t know Him, want to know Him?

I hope so.  I hope we live with such grace and mercy, that folks that don’t know Jesus will want to be around us.  Be friends with us, eat with us, laugh with us. Because when we are in relationship with people (just like Jesus was) His grace can change people.

So, today, may we be that magnet.  Through God’s grace, may people be drawn to us, so that we can point them to Jesus.

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The Greater Gift

In today’s reading, we hear a story that we have all heard a lot, and those are always fun stories. Stories that are familiar, stories we love.  Listen to part of it, Mark 2: 1-5:

1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

roof-paralyticYou’ve probably heard sermons about friendship, how far we should be willing to go to help our friends meet Jesus.  Perhaps about the power of their faith.  If you were to keep reading this text, you’d see that Jesus tells the man that is paralyzed to get up and walk, showing His power to heal those that are sick.

But when I reading this morning, something else spoke to me.  Notice what the very first thing Jesus does is.  He says – your sins are forgiven.  In fact when we see Him heal this man, that healing is really evidence that He has the power to forgive sins.

Yes, we do see healing take place. But we see in this text what the greater gift is. Forgiveness.

Of all the things that Jesus can give you, the one that we may be most tempted to take for granted is that greater gift.  Forgiveness.

Life is not perfect.  There are troubles. There are hurts.  There is pain. There is loss. There many things that really do bring troubles to our soul and to live our lives. And hurt. And Jesus wants to heal them.  He is the healer of the nation.

But first, He wants to heal our greatest need and hurt.  Hear those words of Jesus.  Today, your sins are forgiven.  Hear that again.  Today, in and through Jesus, you are forgiven.

You may face the same trials today that you faced yesterday.  You may face the same hurts.  The same pains. The same temptations.

But hear it again.  You are forgiven.  For real.  You are.  Through the power and love of Jesus, you are forgiven.  The mistakes of the past, the stuff you’ve done wrong, the things that weigh you down, you can let them go.  Because Jesus has.

Today, no matter what has happened in your life, He offers you the greater gift.  Forgiveness.

Today, may we live in that gift.

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What are We Looking at?

Road through the Scottish highlandsHolly and I will have interesting conversations when we are driving somewhere, especially if it is a place that we have both driven to before.  I’ll see something interesting and say, hey, did you see that?  And Holly will always, without fail, say no, I was looking at the road.  What are you looking at?

I always joke that I survey the entire field of vision while I’m driving and she looks at just the road. And honestly, I think we know who is probably both right and safer!

But what we are looking at so often determines where we are going and where we will wind up.  What we are looking at is so very, very, very important.  Listen to what happens today in 1 Samuel 18: 6-9:

6 As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments.  7 And the women sang to one another as they made merry,

“Saul has killed his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.”

8 Saul was very angry, for this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 So Saul eyed David from that day on.

What is Saul looking at?  He’s looking at David. And what happens?  He gets incredibly jealous.  He was already jealous of David, but it gets worse and worse and worse.  The more he looked at David, the more jealous he became.  The more that he wanted to destroy David.  The more that he wanted to preserve his kingdom and his power.  The more that he was led down the road of his own destruction.

So is it for me and your today. What are we looking at?  Are we looking first to our faith, to our God, to our Saviour?  Or are we looking at others?  At what they have?  Their success?  Their stuff?

What are we looking at?

If we are looking to others first, we will never be happy and content.  Never.  We will never, ever, ever be happy.

If we look to God first, we will find our purpose and life in Him. And we will find that happiness and contentment, because we will find ourselves in Him.  That’s where life is found.  Not in ourselves, not in others, but in God.

What we are looking at determines so very much in life. Today, what are we looking at?

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Back to Normal

11039283_918053468233791_7323792872120992766_nThis Sunday at St. Matthew’s, we going are “back to normal.” We’ve had an amazing first few weeks here!  We had just a great crowd and spirit here on our first Sunday. And then the Choir and Orchestra were just terrific for our Patriotic Musical. And last week, with all of us being in Hart Hall, our original worship space, what a great time to remember who we are and where we’ve come from!

And this Sunday we are going back our regular schedule of three services.

Back to normal.

But, here’s the thing. I never want us to go back to normal. Not here at St. Matthew’s. Not in our lives. Not in our families. Not in our community. Not anywhere.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” So in other words, as believers, there is no “normal” anymore. We are a new creation. We alive with love and joy and peace and grace and mercy.

There is no normal anymore.

That’s what I want for us here at St. Matthew’s. Let’s never have a normal Sunday, ever again. Every time we gather for worship, the supernatural can happen. Lives can change, families can be healed, the dead can be brought back to life.

Let’s never be normal again. Let’s live every day with the expectation of the miraculous. Let’s live every day with that hope, that expectation, that promise.

Let’s never be normal again!

See you Sunday. And invite a friend to join us at 8:30 or 11 for our Traditional Worship Experiences in the Sanctuary or at 11 for our INTERSECTION Contemporary Experience in Hart Hall!