Thursday, March 5, 2015

Death is not the end

   

       We all mourn in our own way, there is no set pattern. And we can mourn with the assurance of Jesus Christ, because He tells us, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." And, as a Stephens Minister, I want you to know that God is not immune to our emotions. As our Heavenly Father, God knows what His children are feeling, He felt it when Jesus died on the cross. And because He is all knowing, He already knows what we are thinking. It says in the bible that His Spirit witnesses to ours, which means He mourns our loss too. He knows what we are going through, experiencing the life, death, and resurrection of His Son. God has been through everything we are going through, or have gone through. He has been there. In the Old Testament we find scripture that tells us "The Eternal God is our dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:27). Also, from Psalm 34:18 it says, "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power, whose understanding is beyond all measure. So I believe that God is right here mourning with us, and because of that we can be honest with what we  are feeling, and we can remember our loved ones as they were. We can take that  moment and turn to God, and allow Him to comfort us in there memory.

        I have heard it said somewhere that death may end our lives, but it can never end our relationships. So let our caring and, loving loved ones be a testimony in our lives. Family will remain family, Friends will remain friends. Death can't stop that. God sent His Son to make sure that those who put their faith and trust in Him, will no longer see death as an ending, but as a pit stop on the way to something far greater. When memories of our loved ones drop into our consciousness, you will have no choice but to smile at them, cherish those times, and share them with each other.

         So, when those times are at their toughest, I invite you to turn to Jesus, I know He understands. When He was preparing the disciples for His eventual departure, He told them, truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy (John 16:20-22). Our loved ones were truly a gift given for a short time. May we remember and be thankful for that gift.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Temptation

                                                                    Matthew 4:1-11


      As you have probably guessed from the reading, I am going to talk about temptation. We are all tempted, we can't help it. We all have things that are hard to walk away from. I am going to start with a little story that I think we can all appreciate, and I think it fits quite well with the scripture today.
There was this little boy named Bobby who desperately wanted a new bicycle. He set a plan to save all of his allowance until he had enough money for a brand new mountain bike. Each night during his prayers, Bobby would ask God for the strength to save is money. Kneeling beside his bed Bobby would pray, Dear Lord, please give me the strength to save all of my money, but just incase Lord could you please make the ice cream man not come tomorrow? That is a funny and cute joke, but really, temptation is no joke. Temptation is very much a reality in our lives. Temptation has no boundaries, we are all subjected to it. Greed, power, jealousy, prestige, the list goes on and on.

      Today in Matthew Chapter 4 we see that Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, immediately after being baptized Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be alone and reflect , to ready Himself for the ministry that is to come. This is where Jesus would be tempted.

      The first temptation was to turn stone to bread. Jesus had just ended His fast of 40 days and nights. I am sure He was very hungry, but Jesus responded by saying, Man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. The 2nd temptation came upon the top of the temple. If He would leap from the temple the angels would catch Him. But, Jesus responded, do not put the Lord God to the test. The 3rd temptation came from on top of the highest mountain overlooking the world's kingdoms in all of their glory. The devil tempted Him with all the power to rule over those kingdoms if Jesus would just worship him. Jesus responded with saying away from me satan, for it is written worship the Lo0rd your God, and serve HIm only. You see, Jesus denied temptation, and so can we. But, it is easier to understand that before we are ever tempted, the thought of temptation begins in our hearts and minds.

      Martin Luther once responded to a question about how he handled temptation by saying, I too know something of temptation. But the difference is that when temptation comes knocking at the door of my heart, I always answer with "Go away, this place is occupied, go back to where you came from, for Christ is in here." Martin Luther knew who he was in Christ, he knew who his God was. He didn't just have the head knowledge, he also had the heart knowledge.

      Jesus knew who He was, God had just told everyone who He was when He was baptized. This is My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Jesus went into the wilderness knowing that He was the Son of God. He knew who He was and who His God was. He had no doubts about Himself or doubts about the faithfulness of God. When we know who we are we can come out of our wilderness living in the promises of God. Because, just as Jesus is, we are the children of God, we are His beloved.

      Because the battle with temptation always begins in our hearts and then to our minds, it then leads to us making a choice. But, when we can understand who we are, like Martin Luther or Jesus, our hearts become filled with God's love and devotion. There are not any places where the seed of temptation can grow. And when there aren't any places for those seeds to grow, our choices between right and wrong are easier.

      When I was young I was overcome by the temptation of money and power, and I made a lot of wrong choices growing up. Those wrong choices lead us down a path of our own demise. Our souls are riddled with guilt, shame, and remorse. We have a hard time living with ourselves and it's in this time that our wrong choices start to grow. We begin to turn away from God onto a path of more self destruction. We feel bad about whom we are and believe that God can't love us any longer, that we let God down. This is a different kind of wilderness, this is the type of wilderness that can become a spiritual wasteland.

      The wilderness of temptation is hard work, I can imagine it being a sign at a mechanics shop. Come on in, let us shock, tire, break, and exhaust you, and I am sure Jesus was all of those. He was out there on a 40 day fast. Tired, dirty, and hungry. He was human, He suffered all the same things we do. But, there is good news. In the wilderness of temptation, we find Jesus, He meets us there. He is with us through all the pain and writhing of our temptation. Jesus is there to secure us, giving us strength and encouragement. We can come out victorious because we know Jesus is there with us. He reminds us that He is our refuge, our strong tower, and that He loves us. He is greater than any temptation. Jesus, who is God's grace poured out, is there to bring us out of temptation, victorious.