Archive for the ‘transformation’ Category

Jesus

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (CJB)

 “With the hand of the LORD upon me, The LORD carried me out by His Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley, and it was full of bones. He had me pass by all around them—there were so many bones lying in the valley, and they were so dry! He asked me, “Human being, can these bones live?” I answered, “LORD GOD! Only you know that!” Then He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones! Say to them, ‘Dry bones! Hear what the LORD has to say! To these bones the LORD GOD says, “I will make breath enter you, and you will live. I will attach ligaments to you, make flesh grow on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you. You will live, and you will know that I am the LORD.” “So I prophesied as ordered; and while I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound; it was the bones coming together, each bone in its proper place. As I watched, ligaments grew on them, flesh appeared, and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Next He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath! Prophesy, human being! Say to the breath that the LORD GOD says, ‘Come from the four winds, breath; and breathe on these slain, so that they can live.’ ” So I prophesied as ordered, and the breath came into them, and they were alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army! Then He said to me, “Human being! These bones are the whole house of Israel; and they are saying, ‘Our bones have dried up, our hope is gone, and we are completely cut off.’ Therefore prophesy; say to them that the LORD GOD says, ‘My people! I will open your graves and make you get up out of your graves, and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD—when I have opened your graves and made you get up out of your graves, my people! I will put my Spirit in you; and you will be alive. Then I will place you in your own land; and you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and that I have done it,’ says the LORD.”

How can this story be true for us? Ezekiel was a prophet to God’s people, Israel, who had been taken into exile by Babylonians after the destruction of Jerusalem.

This is a story about Israel’s despair at their captivity. What is despair? Despair is a state in which all hope is lost or absent. Depression leads to despair. Have you ever felt that way? I have. I can truly say, we are all hopeless without God. What despair means, is that a person is willing to be absorbed with themselves and at the same time have a defiant attitude toward God. Sometimes, even resent God!

Sometimes, we get to the point where our own self-perception is one of total hopelessness. We do not look outside of ourselves to God. Sometimes, we cannot understand the consequences of our own behavior and wonder why we suffer from those consequences. We become despairing of our own weaknesses. That is how the people of Israel felt.

Three years ago a funeral director told me that within several months he dealt with a handful of funerals that were related to suicide. Suicide is the result of total despair. Is that any way to live? Sometimes we ask, “what is life, anyway?” It is not simply a physical life; but, it is a life that God gives us, it is an emotional and spiritual life, which includes love, joy, peace, hurt, pain, suffering, sickness, and even death.

It’s interesting that God would call a man to preach God’s Word, and then ask him to speak over lifeless dry bones. It seemed pointless. However, what the preacher discovers is the promise from God, that He will perform the impossible—and bring the dry bones back to life.

In Germany, I was trained as a lifeguard for our community pool at 5th General Hospital. I was certified as an American Red Cross lifesaver. I had the skills to resuscitate those who stop breathing. However, with the breath of God, resuscitation comes quickly and gives life powerfully.

Ezekiel’s vision alludes to God’s creative work in Genesis; how God creates, and how God re-creates. There is a very important and fundamental lesson to be taken from Ezekiel’s vision: when the Spirit is present, God’s people are enabled to live. This is the only basis for the hope given to a despairing person, community, church, or people like the nation of Israel.

How do you know the Holy Spirit is in your life? How do you know the Holy Spirit is present in our church? We get the answer from this passage in Ezekiel.

It is God’s promise to give the dry bones (His people) new hearts and a new spirit. It is the magnitude of a miracle; it is how God is mighty to save! When God saves us, it is indeed a miracle, a miracle of His mercy and grace.

The bones Ezekiel sees are “very dry,” emphasizing the fact that there is no life in them whatsoever. The chance that they will ever live again on their own is zero. Then, God asks the preacher, “will these bones live?” The preacher says to himself, “looking at their current state, um, no.” However, the preacher has learned never to presume on God’s power and intentions. So, he answers, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

God wanted the preacher and the people to know that it is His Word alone that brings life. God wants us to know, that in the most hopeless of situations—even in a valley full of death—God’s Word is powerful to bring resurrection life.

What is the resurrection? What is new life? It is the same as when God spoke the creation into existence, the same as Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb with only a word, the same as Ezekiel preaching to the dry bones, God’s Word always gives life. God promises to give us life! It is that our confidence is in God alone, in any situation, even in our darkest struggles.

The supreme Word from God, the Gospel message itself, tells us not what we must do to earn life, but what God has done, in Jesus Christ, to give us life. Jesus said, “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, until it overflows]. John 10:10

There is always hope that God will bring restoration and renewal to our lives. Whether it is a long struggle with sin, or broken relationships, hard affliction, trials, temptations, or even illness, life’s circumstances can often blind us to God’s life-giving power.

The vision of the dry bones, however, is a promise to us and should remind us that our God will truly give life and purpose to everything that seems hopelessly dead. Remember John’s Gospel, where Jesus declares to Martha: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”  John 11:25-26.

Beloved, do you believe this?

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ! Amen.

 

Copyright © 2020 Gary DeSha

FogOfFear

You can see it far off, looming on the horizon, a thick fog menacing off the coast and swirling in the distance. You know the signs. You’ve been here many times before, but you’ve learned to carry on.  At first, you kind of ignore it, you are aware it’s there. You don’t want to work yourself up, so you busy yourself with things in the hope that the winds will change, and the fog is driven out to sea. The winds rarely change.

In time it approaches, subtle and quiet, caressing its way—almost seducing its way back into your life. Your defense mechanism hasn’t worked, and you can’t keep up the charade. At first, it’s manageable. “This isn’t so bad,” you think, “I can handle this.” Before you know it, the fog is all around you, the thick blur is everywhere, and the familiar comforts are gone. In the fog, sounds are distant echoes, faces are veiled shapes, and the familiar becomes strange; you know it all too well. Feeling alienated and overwhelmed—unable to trust yourself, in the fog of anxiety you give up. You lose yourself in an existential madness. You have a panic attack.

For the anxious and disquieted, fog is a good metaphor.  In fog we lose our bearings, we lose our vision to see reality, and we feel isolated and alone. Sometimes anxiety comes out of nowhere. Anxiety is an existential crisis because it alienates us from reality. That is why a panic attack has a deep sense of dread about it. In a panic, we feel that we are captivated by new truths and new realities.

Have you ever had the experience of waking up from a nightmare only to be troubled by it later in the day? Something about the nightmare hangs around. It is as if the nightmare was exposing something about the real world that you can’t quite shake. Usually, in a short time, this sensation falls away, lost amidst the distractions of waking up. The nightmare, with all its teeth, is not actually real. That’s what anxiety is like, a brooding, lingering sense of unease that turns into real terror. However, unlike the nightmare, it doesn’t go away.

Panic appears to be a revelation—a disclosure about how things really are. Just as fog can make the familiar, strange—and therefore disorient us, unhinging us from the moorings that give us stability and comfort. Anxiety exposes what we take for granted by giving us a new kind of vision, a new story we tell ourselves about who we are, what we can handle, and what is real. Anxiety is a story that is always negative, always fatal, always self-harming, weak and victimizing.

What if this story is true? What if the fog is the way things really are, and the sunlight is just a mirage? What if the nightmare is real and the waking-world is false? It can be tempting to go there, but let’s not go there because nothing good can come from it. Instead, let’s be honest about anxiety and see what that does. The Psalmist says to trust the Lord like a weaned child.

Anxiety is dreadful, it affects our quality of life. Anxiety is debilitating. That doesn’t mean it is true. This is the key point I want to focus on today. The question we must return to in our anxious, fog-laden crisis is always: Is this true? It’s not.

Anxiety is not prophesy. Anxious people live as if it is. Anxiety makes predictions: “I’m going to fail”, “I can’t handle it”, “This will never work.” Anxiety makes judgments: “I’m a failure at being a Christian,” “I’m too weak,” “I’m a bad Christian.”  We need to ask, “Is this true?” Who gets to speak into your life and tell you who you are? Who gets to name and talk about you? Who gets to identify the central essence of what it is to be you? Anxiety wants to.

Does your anxiety have the right to name you, inform you, identify you, claim knowledge of who you are? No. It does not. Anxiety is not God. Anxiety is predominately demonic, because, “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18) and Christ says, “Don’t be afraid” (Mark 5:36). Fear is dangerous to our faith not because it exposes that our faith is weak, but because it tempts us to worship false gods. The danger of fear is that it blinds us from the truth, the truth that God loves us. That love—the love of God as seen in Jesus, in God’s giving of His Son for His glory should speak into our fear and counteract it. God may not always shield you from the terrors of anxiety, but his Word is always more powerful and can counteract any untruth.

That is what anxiety always is: false beliefs. “I can’t handle this.” False. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “I’m too weak!” Maybe so! “But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). “I’m a failure at being a Christian.” False! “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13). “I’m a bad Christian.” Wrong! “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). By asking, “Is this feeling or thought true?” Is this God? We have two options; we can trust our hearts and experiences, or we trust the God who IS truth.

Essentially, what it means to live the Christian life is to live it trusting God’s words of truth. God’s words are powerful and creative, and unlike human words, God’s words do what they say. God’s words create faith when they are heard. They grant strength when we are weak. God’s words of truth counteract the negative and lying untruths of anxiety.

In the fog of anxiety, even though we feel alone, alienated, isolated, weak and near death; the feelings are real, however, the thoughts behind the feelings are not true.  We have a God who is with us always. God never abandons us as orphans, He walks with us through death-valleys, and His strength is sufficient for our weaknesses. These are all His promises. They are all true. The anxious person may have doubts and that’s OK. However, to press in through the fear and not allow it to harm us, we are to hold fast to Christ’s word and promises. I should know. I’ve experienced the fog of deep, dark panic attacks. Then, when I’m reminded of God’s promises, I feel better. Why? Because I ask myself, “Is this anxious thought true?” No, it’s not. It’s false.  I’m taken outside myself by words that give forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. God’s words are true. He who calmed the storm with His words can calm my jittery nerves with the same words. The storms of my life are just as vulnerable to the King’s command of peace as that ancient storm was to Jesus Christ.

Out there, in the world today, in our city, our State, and our Country, there is a lot to be concerned about. War or peace. Democrat or Republican. Famine. Pestilence. The Coronavirus. Influenza A or B. The economy. Life or death. All of these things may strike fear into your hearts. However, Jesus says in John 14:1, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

Therefore, hear God’s Word of truth for you today from Philippians 4:7, “Then God’s peace, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, God’s peace be with you. Take heart! Don’t take what the world gives, but take what Jesus Christ gives. His peace. It’s eternal peace. That peace which passes all our understanding.

This is most certainly true.

~ taken from Bruce Hillman

 

Transform

Christ Lutheran Church is in the process of a modern transformation! By the time this newsletter reaches you, we will have celebrated and re-dedicated Christ Lutheran Church to worship, the ministry of the Gospel, missions, the discipleship of believers, and the correct administration of the Sacraments – all to the glory of God. God has blessed this congregation with many blessings. What I hear God telling us is that we must submit ourselves to the transformation of the Holy Spirit. How are we transformed?

We are told in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that, “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn within a large family.” Romans 8:29

Our transformation enables us to be of service to God in bringing the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation to a lost and dying world. A recent Pew Research Center study has identified some interesting facts:

  1. Atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons score higher in religious knowledge and outperform Protestant Christians on questions about the core teachings and history of Christianity.
  2. Those identifying themselves as “Christian” shrunk from 78% to 70% – a drop of 8% points in just seven years. Meanwhile, those calling themselves atheist, non-religious, or simply unaffiliated rose from 16% to almost 23%.
  3. Almost 60% of our youth leave their churches as young adults – many joining the growing number of the so-called “nones,” those who profess no adherence to any faith whatsoever.

What can we at Christ Lutheran Church do? We must do what we believe, teach and confess!

  1. To preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, period. Nothing added to it, or taken away from it.
  2. To preach and teach the Law of God, period. Nothing added to it, or taken away from it.
  3. To preach and teach repentance from sin and faith toward God through Jesus Christ alone.
  4. To preach and teach belief in the inerrancy, infallibility, inspiration and authority of God’s Word (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) – the Bible.
  5. To teach her followers of Jesus Christ, their family and children what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and why it matters.
  6. To teach followers of Jesus Christ what the Christian faith is and that it is important to know and understand what they believe, and why.
  7. To preach and teach about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, i.e., being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the continuation of the gifts (manifestations) of the Holy Spirit; the gifts God gives for the equipping and building up of the Body of Christ.
  8. To preach and teach how God has arranged the Body of Christ (the local church); how He has defined its leadership; and how the Body of Christ (the local church) should function in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  9. To support her members by assembling together for worship, ministry, and fellowship. We are exhorted in God’s Word to always assemble for worship, because it is the evidence that we care, love, and work for one another and our community.

“And let us keep paying attention to one another, in order to spur each other on to love and good deeds, not neglecting our own congregational meetings, as some have made a practice of doing, but, rather, encouraging each other. And let us do this all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

At Christ Lutheran Church we must seek to do just that. Let us make the necessary commitment to transformation. It is time to take a sound biblical stand for God, Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and His Church. Let us come together, from ashes to renewal. Join us, help us, fellowship with us, support us. Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Gary