All Roads Lead There

“Lord, it is good that we are here…”
(Matthew 17:4)

I want to begin this week’s message with a word of “Thanks” to all who helped to make the Cherokee Community Theater Production of A Christmas Carol: The Musical such a success. (You may find some pictures at www.cherokeect.org).   To the over 60 cast members, the orchestra, the flight crew, the directors, and the fantastic audience (a sell-out for almost every show), this was truly a fantastic experience.  Performing with such a talented troupe before such an enthusiastic audience every night was a joy, and ending every show with a standing ovation and the (faux) snow coming down while singing “God Bless us Everyone!” is a memory I will carry for a lifetime.

And perhaps that is why this week has come with a tremendous sense of “Post-Production Letdown.”  For three months nearly every evening was spent at the theater in rehearsal, laughing with friends, exploring characters, learning challenging music – being a part of something very special.  The show ended Sunday night, and on Monday I was back at the office, preparing for a committee meeting, studying for a sermon, planning Sunday worship.

One of the best compliments I heard following the show was that we should take the production on the road, that it was better than anything they’ve seen at the Orpheum.  While very kind, I shudder at the thought of trying to take this production anywhere.  After 8 shows over two weekends, I am ready for the show to be over.  Still, I miss being part of something so special, something that worked so well.  Then I tell myself, it wasn’t real.  It was a play, it was Community Theater.  It was great, but it isn’t permanent.  Life will go on, and the bills will keep coming, so it’s back to life, back to reality.

I wonder if this is sort of what it was like for Peter, James, and John, when they were on the mountain with Jesus as he was transfigured before them, with Moses and Elijah appearing, and the voice of God speaking from the heavens.  Okay, it’s probably nothing like that, but I can understand the sentiment of Peter when he said to Jesus, “It is good for us to be here. Let me make three tents, we’ll make camp here, and we can usher in the Kingdom right here and now.”  Peter didn’t want to have to go back down the mountain, to face the real world.  The glory, the joy, the paradise he glimpsed in that moment was something to hold on to.

Or consider Mary.  A new baby in her arms and the shepherds had come to share what the angels had heralded from the sky, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will to men.”  Wise men brought their gifts, rich treasures fit for a king.  But the baby had to grow.  There was no stopping that.  And there was no stopping what was to come.  The prophet Simeon, after blessing the family at the Temple, turned to Mary and warned her, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

The hymn What Child is This? has us sing,

Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.

This is why He came.  We cannot avoid it, we cannot get around it.  At the center of the history of all mankind stands a cross, and we must come to it, even in the midst of our Christmas.  We must eventually leave the nativity for it.  We must sometime or other come down from the mountain for it.  For it is at the cross where God deals with our sinfulness, it is at the cross where the debt is paid, it is at the cross where forgiveness is found, it is at the cross where the fountain of grace bursts forth.

SDG

Feelings, nothing more than feelings…

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…

(Ephesians 1:3 ESV)

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians begins with one of the most effusive expressions of praise ever found, “Blessed be God… who had blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing… as he chose us… predestined us… adopted us… to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he as blessed us.”  Volumes of books are necessary to unpack this simple yet eloquent explosion of praise to God.  You’ll find the opening verses of Ephesians to be a “Cliff’s Notes” guide to covenantal reformed theology, and without crossing the line into plagiarism, every candidate for ministry should use these verses as the basis for their statement of faith.

We have been blessed by God in Christ with every spiritual blessing.  This could be read, with every blessing of the Spirit, the Greek is a little ambiguous here, but ultimately it all means the same thing.  Paul unfolds the blessings that God has showered upon us.  We have been chosen by God to be holy and blameless.  In love, he predestined us to be adopted at sons, for the praise of his glorious grace.  I know words like “chosen” and “predestined” make some people shy away muttering “free will” under their breath.  But this is the word of God, His promise to us.  It is meant as good news.  God’s will is that we know His love, encounter His grace, be called His children – and God determined this when our will was set against Him.  That’s good news.

Moreover, we have redemption in Christ Jesus, the forgiveness of trespasses, and the revelation of the will of God with all wisdom and insight.  The blessings of God go on and on throughout Paul’s letter – Praise be to God for His goodness and grace!

Except –

There are times when we don’t feel blessed.  The world seems set against us.  Money’s tight, or even non-existent.  Friends are few and far between, and those you thought were close only got there so they could stab you in the back.  Anxiety and stress rise up around you, you feel lost and tossed around in the storm.  The winds blow and your life is turned upside down (literally here in NW Iowa).  It’s hard to echo the words of Paul, it’s hard to say that we’ve been blessed with every spiritual blessing.

There are times when we are in the desert.  We feel dry, spiritually – we’re thirsty for closeness with God.  We want to know those blessings that Paul is talking about here, but it’s just not connecting.  We hear about the blessings, why don’t we see them?

It’s at times like these that it is important to remember this truth, God’s word is true regardless of how we feel about it.  So often we think that our religious affections (to borrow the phrase from Jonathon Edwards) all rely on how I feel about God at this particular moment.  If I feel passionately about God, then I must be close to Him and He to me.  If I’m feeling distant from God, then there must be something wrong in my life.  While there may be some truth to this, I think that sometimes we may put a little too much emphasis on our feelings.  If I don’t feel like I’ve “connected” to God in prayer, does that mean that God didn’t hear my prayer?  If my heart wasn’t really in my worship and preaching last week, does that mean that God wasn’t still glorified by my preaching and in our worship?

One of my favorite quotes in literature comes from Dickens’, A Christmas Carol.  Scrooge has just encountered the ghost of Bob Marley, his former business partner who warns him of the coming visits in the night.  In disbelief Scrooge replies, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”  How many times are our feelings, either positive or negative, toward God based on our lack of sleep, our indigestion, or the run-in we had at the supermarket yesterday?

The truth of the matter is, regardless of how you feel about it today, for those who are alive in Christ Jesus, God has blessed you with ever spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  This doesn’t mean that we won’t encounter poverty and pain, it doesn’t mean that we won’t face hardship and setback.  But it does mean that God to supplies all our needs “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). It does mean that regardless of what we face, we may say, as did Job, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Friends, when you don’t feel it, know it.  Know that God has blessed you in Christ Jesus our Lord, and you are blessed indeed!