No Turning Back—but there is a Finish Line

When I was a kid, 50-odd years ago, the Sunday school group traveled from our little Southeast Iowa town to the Big City of Des Moines for an adventure at a little, long-since-gone amusement park.  It was a big deal for us, though today’s kids, veterans of Six Flags and Disney and even virtual reality experiences in their own homes would surely describe Riverview Park as “lame” or “wimpy” or “cheesy”.  (Wikipedia’s description:  “a popular family entertainment oasis in early Iowa history.”  I guess we were there when it was on its last legs.)

But in the early70’s, growing up in a small town (and “still hayseed enough to say, ‘Look who’s in the big town’” haha) there were elements to that park that were intimidating.  That rickety wooden roller coaster, the first couple of times, was enough to make me weak in the knees and get my stomach to churn.  It was probably the same for my friends, and so, though we all gazed longingly at the Ferris Wheel and even the Merry-Go-Round, none of us dared to suggest anything other than staying in line, like the brave 10-year-old men we fancied ourselves to be.

Too soon the chain of cars clattered to the platform and it was our turn to strap in.  The cars began the ascent up those four or five circular turns to get us to the top, where there would be that momentary pause. Then the sudden drop and the thrills and speed and screams from some and jaw clenched and hands gripping the bar for me — and then it was finished.  The first time, as we were chugging up that hill, our pastor, who happened to be in the car behind my friend and me, leaned forward and said, “Well, there’s no going back now.”

That phrase stuck with me.  “No going back now.”  For better or worse, we could not get out until it was over.  Strapped in until the end.  It had begun and there was a wild ride, but there WOULD be a point where it stopped.  There WOULD be cotton candy and ice cream and hot dogs and an attempt for a stuffed animal on the Midway.  There had been a beginning and there would be an end.

Today?  We’re strapped in, looking at the next few weeks (months?) of Coronavirus in our region, our nation, and our world.  There will be twists and turns.  People will approach it differently.  Some of us will white-knuckle it.  Others will throw their hands up in the air.  Still others will just throw up.  It’s begun.  We’re riding it, by virtue of being (currently) alive, even though we don’t like it.

But there’s an end.  There is a time when it stops, when “the smoke clears and the dust settles,” so to speak.  So don’t lose hope.  Don’t give in.  Take this time of fear (of sickness, of finances on the other side, of losing loved ones prematurely) and let it drive you to the Gospel.  Pray!  Read your Bibles!  It’s amazing to me how much the Psalms speak to this particular moment.

Consider doctors and nurses and all those on the front-lines who are working to save lives and pray for them.  Consider those who are manufacturing and shipping life saving supplies.  Encourage!  And be encouraged.  Consider those who are grieving.  Don’t turn away from the stories of our fellow-riders who live in Italy, Spain, China, Iran, NYC — who are mourning the loss of their loved ones. And consider the ones whose turn it is to fight for their lives.  Weep with those who weep, says Jesus.  Rejoice with those who rejoice.

This season of the year, and this season in history, it is natural to turn our thought to the One who voluntarily got on a ride that only He could ride.  It is good to think about Him all the time, but my own heart finds it easier to do this 1)during a crisis, such as our current pandemic, and 2)during Holy Week.

As Holy Week begins, remember this person, Jesus, who left heaven and came down voluntarily for His people (Phil. 2:5-8).  Consider Him on the Mount of Olives, facing a wild ride only He could face, being strapped in to torture, ridicule, and then the wrath of God the Father poured out on Him as He bore our sins in His body on the tree.  What was He thinking as He approached that death?  The Bible tells us.

Luke 22:41-44, And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.

I like to consider that Luke passage with this one, where Jesus said, No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord (John 10:18).

So it begins.  No turning back.  (Churchill:  “When you’re going through hell, keep going!” Us: “In this case, we’re strapped in and don’t have a choice!”).  But there is an end.  We little Iowa kids stepped off of that roller coaster. COVID-19 will run its course.   Jesus emerged from the grave.  Death is defeated, once and for all.

“Preserve me, O God….”

Psalm 16:1-2  – Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.  I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.

There are many important things for which to pray — a quick discovery of an antidote to Coronavirus is a great prayer.  Thank God for science and scientists!  Ask the Lord to help their minds, their collaborations, and their clinical tests.

There are many people for whom to pray – the nurses and doctors on the front lines; for their health and endurance and their optimism and fighting spirit as they live out their callings and inspire their patients to fight for life.

For yourself?  David’s prayer in Psalm 16:1 is a good one.  To pray for the Lord to preserve you and your loved ones is not selfish.  Ask God for protection.  Write specific names on a list and put yourself on that list.  Preserve me, O God!  Take refuge in God.

And while you are praying for God to preserve you, it’s a good season in which to re-up in your commitment to the Lord.  I believe that every one of you who are Christians can say with David, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”  Now is a good time to revisit your relationship with God, to think through it, to say it again, and say it often.

You are loved.  Your family loves you.  Your pastor loves you.  God loves you even more!

“Stay healthy!”

A new chapter for our church and for our webpage (and for this blog) begins.  I’m nervous.  Once or twice I have been mistakenly ID’d as a card-carrying Luddite, and honestly, if they actually issued cards, there are times when I would have applied.  This technology thing is not easy for me.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I declared independence from social media.  From my Build Your Own Personal Brand type of self-marketing, to my sins of omission (leaving out the normal but adding what I thought was impressive stuff:  “Fakebook”), to being overwhelmed by too many constituencies, to the way polarizing politics threatened some valued long-standing relationships — enough was enough!  (If I had added:  “…and to posts by my kid that were downright embarrassing” would that have been too personal?).

This carried over into my approach to our church’s website.

To be fair, I had no interest in ANY church’s website.  Church websites were best if they simply told the location, announced worship times, and offered a minimal amount of what to expect.  Maybe a recording of a sermon.  And a couple snapshots of the building or of the congregation eating pot-luck.  Just enough for the prospective visitor to get a handle on “who” the church is, and then decide whether or not to dip a toe into the water at an actual worship service.

Then, almost overnight, thanks to Coronavirus, the church website changed from being a necessary evil to being an absolute necessity.

We cancelled services the past two weeks out of love for all people and a desire to keep our own congregants healthy.  For the next four weeks (and maybe more) that decision has been made for us.  We will follow the rules, hunker down, pull in, restrict personal interactions, and practice social distancing, knowing that our collective efforts will make a difference in the lives of friends and neighbors.

So here’s a new way to communicate, and I intend to be here often — maybe even after the coast is clear and the stay-home orders are lifted and we are back to worshiping together.  May God Bless You, Congregation!  I miss seeing you.

And in the yelled words of my neighbor from across the street –

And my mailman –

And the young Home Depot employee who helped load my curbside pick-up  –

And the President –

And the woman six feet behind me at the supermarket (the one wearing the mask) –

And the check-out girl—

“STAY HEALTHY!”

Preaching a familiar text

Hello, and welcome to Christ the Shepherd Church, and to this blog post!  My name is Pastor Hutch and it has been my privilege to have been the pastor at CtS since the beginning, nearly fifteen years ago.

The sermon portion of our Sunday morning worship services finds us in Ephesians.  We will finish in November and then have a series of Advent sermons.

I used to wonder if it is easier to preach an obscure passage or one of the more famous texts, such as Ephesians 2:8-9, where we are this week.  The obscure is easier for me.  There’s a sense of wonder — some new Biblical turf — almost like having a metal detector and knowing there is rich treasure to be unearthed.

But what is familiar to me is likely familiar to some in my congregation.  I tend to forget that it is not familiar to ALL in the congregation and that’s where I can get into trouble.  Making assumptions.  Thinking that the congregation has heard the text preached many times before, by the very best, and assuming that they are going to be bored.

This Sunday:  “For by grace you have been saved, through faith.  And not of yourselves.  It is the gift of God.  Not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

That is so wonderful, so profound, and so— familiar.  Lord, help me to rediscover the wonder of the truth that You communicated in this passage.  Help me to communicate clearly.  By your Holy Spirit, energize your people as they interact with your Word.

 

And remind me of that sad truth:  “we may never pass this way again.” I might not have the privilege of preaching in Ephesians for several years if at all in my lifetime.  Let me do justice to Your Text.  Help me, as I’ve heard John MacArthur put it many times over the years, to see myself as a waiter serving this meal prepared by You.  And let me get it to the table without messing it up!

Jesus the Bread of Life

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’[a]

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Discussion source:

Who do you say I am?

During a discussion with his disciples, Jesus asked them, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15, NIV). The answer to this important question is related to a critical area of theology known as Christology. As its name indicates, Christology is about the study of Christ – His nature, his purpose, and more.

Theology lays the foundation for God, His nature, and His plan involving redemption for human beings and restoration of a fallen creation. It also tells us some important things about God such as that He is personal, loving, transcendent, active in His creation, all-powerful, ever-present, and all-knowing. But without Christology, there is no Christianity. Jesus is at the center of the Christian faith. As a result, knowing about Christ is essential, as well as personal. Our relationship to Christ, for instance, is tied to our human condition, redemption, and salvation.

Discussion source: