by Rev. Wesley Smith (Retired)
Pastor First Baptist Church
HE IS LIFE!
1 Kings 17: 17-24, Galatians 1:11-24,
Luke 7: 11-17
You may know the story about the small country church that was having their yearly Christmas cantata. They always marched in to “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and went out to the strains of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”
As the choir began their processional, they marched precisely up the aisle, each person three pews behind the other. Just as the last alto got half way up the aisle, she stepped on the grating of the floor furnace.
She had bought a new pair of heels to wear for the Christmas program. Unfortunately, the pencil-thin heel of her shoe went through the grating and stuck there. She shook her foot hard several times, but, alas, the shoe was stuck fast. The man in line behind her was getting close. She was so stunned she simply slipped her foot out of the shoe and went limping up the aisle with only one shoe on.
The man coming behind looked down and realized what had happened. He knew if the shoe was left sticking there, it would break up the congregation. Thinking quickly, he reached down, grabbed the shoe firmly, and gave one strong twist.
To his amazement, the entire floor grate came up with the shoe. He went into a mild state of shock and simply marched on up the aisle in time with the music, floor grate and shoe in hand.
Yes, you guessed it! The next man in line fell in the hole.
Such humor appeals to us because we have encountered Murphy’s law in our own lives.
Can anybody help us get our lives in order? Can anybody give us the energy to cope with the real world in which we live? Can anybody take losers and turn them into winners?
The answer from the Gospel is a resounding YES. The business of Christian faith is that of giving people new life, new hope, new direction.
Consider the lessons from today’s Scripture readings. There are three well-known instances in the Bible besides the resurrection of Jesus of persons who were dead being brought back to life. “Lazarus, come out,” Jesus commanded outside Lazarus’ tomb. Lo and behold, Lazarus did come out. Then there was that incident with the widow of Nain. Jesus says to her “Don’t cry.” Then to the dead man he commands, “Get up.” The Scriptures tell us that the young man sat up and began to talk.
And there was an incident in the Old Testament. Again it involved a widow and her only son. This time it is the prophet Elijah who is God’s instrument. The widow’s son is dead but he is given new life when Elijah offers a prayer to God.
The business of our faith is new life.
Paul understood that. He discusses at length the transformation that took place in his own life when he encountered Christ. Christ did not bring him back from the dead in a physical sense. The death that Paul experienced was the death of the old self – the self that had been self-righteously persecuting the tiny but fast growing Christian community. It was the self that had tortured itself in vain to live up to all the demands of the Jewish Law. It was the self of unhappiness and fear. Then Paul met Christ and received life – abundant life.
A loser became a winner. Suddenly Paul got his life together. He knew who he was and what he was to do. And he knew who was with him. Paul becomes one of the most dynamic, one of the most articulate, one of the most influential men who ever lived. But first of all he needed life – abundant life – the life only Christ can give.
First of all, see how hopeless life is without Christ. Many people today live in what Dr. Vernon Grounds called a fool’s paradise. They keep themselves sedated with alcohol and drugs rather than confront the meaninglessness of their own lives. They surround themselves with material possessions and tell themselves they are happy. They buy self-help books religiously, but despair that so few real changes take place in their life. They cultivate a positive attitude, but deep within they know it is a show – a sham. They are like the soldier in the Army guardhouse. Another prisoner said to him, “How long are you in for?” “Thirty days” “What did you do?” “I was AWOL – what are you in for?” “Three days.” “What did you do?” “I murdered the General.” ‘How come I got thirty days for being AWOL and you got only three days for murdering the General?” “They’re hanging me on Wednesday,” he answered.
Regardless of how positive your attitude toward life, if there is no overall meaning to life, if there is no power by which dying persons may be saved, if there is no energizing influence from without or within that will allow us to be victorious, then life is ultimately an absurdity, as the existentialists have claimed. Without Christ there is no hope, no help, no lasting happiness. Life is but a fleeting shadow, as someone had put it, with no substance, no staying power, no ultimate reality.
In the book “Born to Win” the authors tell about a little boy named Earl. As a little boy he was rarely spoken to directly by his parents. One day, in desperation for some kind of direct encounter with them, he smashed a hole in the bedroom wall with his baseball bat and waited for their response. No response was forthcoming; his parents ignored his action. The next day he overheard his mother saying, “Earl must have fallen against the wall. There’s a hole in it.” Repeated incidents of being ignored so discounted the boy that he became psychotic.
Earl’s story is the story of every person who tries to live without God. Is there no one there to notice me? No one there to care about me? No one to help me cope with my life? For many people today the answer is “no one.” Without Christ life is ultimately hopeless.
He is the source of life – abundant life – life with possibilities untold.
He is rest for the weary.
Rest – that is what many of us crave. We are like the fellow who was having trouble getting up in the morning so his doctor prescribed some pills. He took them, slept well, and was awake before he heard the alarm. He took his time getting to the office, strolled in and said to the boss, “I didn’t have a bit of trouble getting up this morning.”
“That’s fine,” replied the boss, “but where were you yesterday?”
It is rest many of us crave – and in some cases that is what we need. But many others of us are more tired than we need to be. The source of our fatigue is mental and emotional. We come home from work and we are exhausted. We hardly have energy to get out of the chair. And yet if someone had something really exciting for us to do – something active – something enjoyable – we would discover energy we never knew we had.
It is psychological and emotional conflict that drains our energy from us. We need rest not only for our bodies, but for our souls. If our inner person could “get it all together” we would have energy untold.
My friend, there is no greater energizer in the world than commitment to Jesus Christ. When life is centered in his purposes, life has a new freshness. Read the story of Paul. Notice the energy busting forth from this man as he encountered every obstacle to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. There is a great motivating force in life that gives more than rest to the weary. He is the Source of life – energy – power.
There is also a roadmap for the wanderer.
Are you a wanderer? Are you simply wandering through life with no direction, no purpose, no fixed idea about what you are doing here? Does it puzzle you then why you seem to be accomplishing so little?
There needs to come a time in every person’s life when he or she sits down and asks the question, why am I here? What is it that is really important in my life? A great businessman said that the secret of his success was that every morning he made a list of the things that he needed to do that day in the order of their importance. He started, then, with the most important task and stuck with it until he was finished.
The problem with many of us is that we have never determined what is most important in our lives. We simply wander. We let happenstance control the events in our lives. We are like billiard balls on a table. We are bounced here and there, but we never really take control of our lives. Christ can help us with that.
That is one of the reasons daily prayer is important in the life of a Christian. Prayer is important not so much because it changes God. God is always loving. God always wills his children’s good. There is nothing about God that we need to change. Prayer is important because it changes us. Prayer allows us to center our thoughts on the One who is the source of our life. With his guidance we sort out what is really important in our lives. We discover his will for us. We discover insight into how we might effectively accomplish that to which he has called us.
For the weary he is rest. To the wanderer he is a roadmap. To the worrier he is relaxation.
For many of us worry is the most destructive force in our life. We worry because we have never entirely entrusted our life to God.
There is a story of two beggars who stood at the gate of a mansion, hesitating to enter because of a growling watchdog. One said, “Go on in. There’s nothing to be afraid of. The dog is barking, but he is also wagging his tail.” The other replied, “Yeah, but I don’t know which end to believe.”
Arthur Roche once said, “Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”
That is why we need to let go of our worries – over health, over finances, over our family situations. And how fortunate we are to have a Lord who desires to free us from our fears. We don’t need to be afraid to anything!
There is an old hymn that puts the matter clearly:
I know a soul that is steeped in sin,
That no man’s art can cure.
But I know a Name, a Name, a Name
That can make that soul all pure.
I know a life that is lost to God,
Bound down by things of earth,
But I know a Name, a Name, a Name
That can bring that soul new birth.
I know of lands that are sunk in shame,
Of hearts that faint and tire,
But I know a Name, a Name, a Name
That can set those lands on fire.
That name, of course, is Jesus. He is rest for the weary, a roadmap for the wanderer, relaxation for the worrier. He is life – abundant, never ending, joy to overflowing – life! And, He came and lived and died and rose for you and for me.
The business of Christian faith is that of giving people new life, new hope, new direction.
First Baptist Church
27 Broad Street, Hamilton, NY 13346 315-824-2780
American Baptist Churches USA American Baptist Churches of New York State
Behold, I Make Things All New
Revelation 21: 1-5
Have you ever thought how much hope is wrapped up in those four little words – “as good as new?” The doctor tries to reassure you as you prepare for surgery – in a few weeks your heart will be as good as new. You know that’s not quite true. Your heart has had many years of wear. Nothing can reverse the aging process.
The mechanic makes the same promise about your car. But you know the promise is hollow. It may in some respects look and run like a new car – but it will still be the same old car in many important ways. One man was talking about his car. “The old clunker makes a lot of noise,” he said, “In fact the only things on it that don’t make noise are the horn and the radio.”
No reputable marriage counselor would ever make a promise to make a marriage as good as new. The physical heart responds to treatment much more predictably than the spiritual or emotional heart. It’s a lot easier to knock dents out of an old car than it is an endangered marriage.
“As good as new . . .” Very few things really are. In fact, there is but one place that I know where that promise is not only fulfilled, but even exceeded. In the book of Revelation we read, “Because, I make all things new . . .” Could that promise be true? Could God make my marriage not simply as good as new but entirely new? Could God take my broken heart, my shattered dreams, my hollow spirit and make them new?
Of course He can – that is his primary business – making new lives from old.
He can make life new for us, first of all, by giving us a new attitude about life.
One of the chief contributions of modern psychology is the insight that most of us are as happy as we choose to be. Circumstances do not nearly affect our attitude as much as our attitude affects our circumstance.
John Homer Miller put it this way: Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life: not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens. Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be.
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish dramatist and critic said, “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them – make them!”
In the spring of 1982, six inches of snow fell in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta is a beautiful place to be in the springtime, but one does not expect snow. Everything in Atlanta came to a grinding halt. One disc jockey saw an opportunity to bring cheer to an otherwise disconcerted city. On his radio turntable he began to play, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” and other yuletide carols. On at least one radio station the listeners could concentrate not on the dangers of icy streets or the discomfort of unseasonable cold, but on the warm spirit of Christmas.
God needs to give some of us a new attitude. We do not need to allow circumstances to defeat us. Some of man’s greatest accomplishments have been produced under the most adverse surroundings. When the famous French physicists, Marie and Pierre Curie, made their great Nobel prize-winning discovery of radium, it was in a dilapidated old shed. It had a dirt floor and a skylight roof which leaked when it rained. In winter, it was freezing; in summer, the heat was stifling. To make matters worse, there was no chimney to carry off noxious gases. It was hardly the modern, well-equipped laboratory you’d expect for such a tremendous scientific breakthrough.
Albert Schweitzer, that brilliant German medical missionary, used a chicken coop for his first consultation room in the jungles of Africa. Through cracks in the slats of the lean-to, curious natives often peered and jabbered in a strange tongue. Distracting? Most definitely. But that didn’t stop Albert Schweitzer. Over the years he built a large hospital and medical station where thousands of Africans were treated each year.
The most important fact about us is not our circumstances but our attitude. God can give you a new life if you will let him give you a new outlook – a new perspective – a new point of view.
He can also give you a new life if you will simply learn to trust Him.
I know, sometimes we feel like the deep sea diver who was walking around in his heavy diving suit investigating a wreck on the ocean floor. Above him was the mother ship to which he was connected by an air-hose. After he had been on the bottom for some time, he heard over his intercom the anguished cry, “Come up at once! The ship is sinking!”
Sometimes our plight may seem just that – hopeless, but worrying ourselves sick is no solution. And we do worry ourselves sick.
John Edmund Haggai, in his book, “How to Win Over Worry’” says that worry is Public Enemy No. 1. He says that mental illness is costing this nation three-and-a-half-billion dollars a year; that many more Americans commit suicide (the result of stress, duress, anxiety and worry) than die from the five most common communicable diseases. At least 23 million Americans are suffering from some form of mental illness some of which is the result of worry. One doctor states that worry causes heart trouble, high blood pressure, some forms of asthma, rheumatism, ulcers, colds, thyroid malfunction, arthritis, migraine headaches, blindness and a host of stomach disorders in addition to ulcers.
Why do we do that to ourselves? How much better our lives could be if we could simply let go of our worries and let God shoulder our burdens.
Often we keep ourselves in such a frantic emotional state that we fail to see obvious solutions to our problems. God will provide a solution if we will truly trust Him.
The word inspiration comes from the Latin and means, to give life, to breathe into, to put spirit into, as God does to Adam in Genesis. Inspiration is a state of mind that’s linked to productivity, in the sense that “inspired” artists are likely to produce better works of art. Imagine how Michaelangelo felt as he contemplated painting the Sistine Chapel. There is a vital relationship between inspiration and production. In business, inspiration is often called motivation – a more recent term for the force that moves people to perform well, even under difficult conditions.
“Behold, I make all things new . . .” Let God give you a new attitude and a new sense of trust.
In the Nova Scotia mine explosion of 1958, men were entombed for days without light, food, or water. They were keenly aware of plight, but when one of them became depressed the others crept around him and said all the things they could think of to encourage him. They would not let themselves stop believing in victory, affirming it and striving for rescue. They would not let themselves stop expecting rescue.
After days of almost unbelievable endurance rescue came. It is hard to believe that the attitude of the men did not make a difference in their survival. But the point I am trying to make is that their attitude is the one to take, whatever the outcome. It is better to go down to defeat believing in victory, affirming it and striving for it to the end, and helping others to strive for it to the end, than to go down believing in defeat and expecting and submitting to it.
But there is a final ingredient in a new attitude, a new sense of trust and newness of life. We need a new capacity for love.
Christopher Morley has said; “If we discover that we had only five minutes left to say all we wanted to say, every smartphone would be occupied by people calling other people to stammer that they loved them.”
Someone (an anonymous sage) has written: “Be a spendthrift in love! Love is the one treasure that multiples by division; it is the one gift that grows bigger the more you take from it. It is the one business in which it pays to be an absolute spendthrift; give it away, splash it over, empty your pockets, shake the basket, turn the glass upside down, and tomorrow you will have more than ever.”
Some of us could have a new life if we would allow God to increase our capacity for love – for acceptance – for forgiveness. The Buddhists say, “The two devils of the emotional kingdom are anger and fear. Anger, the brain passion, and fear the freezing passion.” The Apostle Paul said, “God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love.”
“Behold, I make all things new" – a new attitude – a new sense of trust in his presence and his power – a new capacity for love. New lives for old. That is His promise to each of us today. Not just as good as new – but better than as good as new. It can happen; He has promised it. Do you believe in it?
Christ's Compelling Invitation
One of the most brilliant physicians in the early 1900s was a man named Dr. William Osler. He not only practiced medicine, he did medical research, taught at John Hopkins Medical School and was a medical historian and author.
As one might expect, when he went to visit his patients in the hospital, his students followed, trying to learn all they could from this great doctor. Occasionally, after the doctor would examine a patient, he would take the chart in hand and scribble the letters "G.O.K."
One day when a student saw him write "G.O.K." on a patient's chart, the young fellow decided to ask what the letters meant. With a smile and a shrug, the doctor answered honestly: "God Only Knows."
God only knows! How many times in life, I wonder, have we used those words? How many times in the future will we use them?
Let's face it, sometimes we just don't know the answers to the dilemmas we face. Isn't that so? For example, consider a person in the prime of life. He loves his job. He works hard, but now technology, progress and robotics have made his labor unnecessary. So, he is told that he is no longer longer needed, and let go.
Imagine what churns inside him -- feelings of rejection, of inadequacy, of fear that he cannot support his family. The stress builds, the nervousness increases, the darkness seems to swamp the light. What is he to do? Suggestions might be made, but let's be honest about it. In the end, all that can safely be said is G.O.K. -- God Only Knows.
Sometimes a pastor feels just like Dr. Osler when faced with some human woes unloaded in the privacy of the counseling room. One pastor recalls a very wealthy woman seeking guidance in dealing with her twenty-year old unmarried daughter. The daughter was already well-off due to an inheritance from her grandfather. But the daughter was immature, naive about men and money, and now on the verge of doing something very foolish: namely getting married before her life was balanced and in order. What could the mother do to head off the almost certain disaster?
The pastor thought and thought. He made several suggestions, each of which was rejected by the mother. Finally, he spoke of trust funds and pre-nuptial agreements that the woman thought might work. They prayed. She left with a smile. Then the pastor sank in his chair and thought to himself: God Only Knows!
Oh, the dilemmas we each face, the problems that come out of nowhere, the assaults on our peace of mind, the troubles that tear at the fabric of our being! What is to be done, we wonder? How can we handle the anxiety? sometimes the only answer we can come up with is G.O.K. God only knows.
God does know
But perhaps we would do well to think seriously about those very words: God only knows. We have a tendency to use them so carelessly, so flippantly. But, maybe within them lies a bedrock truth on which we should focus. The truth is that if only God knows, at least someone knows, and who better than the Lord of the universe? He is not in the dark about our predicament. He sees the whole picture and the possibilities. The situation is not hopeless, not insoluble, to one Person, for God does know and understands how we can come through it all!!
Remember how in the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord told his listeners, most of whom were struggling to keep body and soul together, not to be anxious about what they would eat or drink or wear? For Christ said, "your heavenly Father knows that you need them all." (Matthew 6:32)
Christ reminded them (and us) that God knows our personal situation precisely. God knows and God cares. And, if we can come to that understanding, we can handle any anxiety.
Betty Beck, a woman in a small town in upstate New York, found herself diagnosed with cancer. She was a very spiritual woman, yet the reality of death came heavily upon her. Once she was in depression and despair for awhile, but then she sorted things out and came to some conclusions. First, she decided to use the remainder of her life as God's time, not hers. Gratefully receiving each day as God's gift, she often spoke about the goodness of God. "No matter what happens," she said, "I will still be in God's hands."
Secondly, Betty discovered that until she was willing either to die or to live, as God chose, she was not really free. In Romans, Paul put the same truth this way: "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or wether we die, we are His (Romans 14:8). That concept brought Paul freedom and hope, and did the same for Betty.
Finally, she discovered that when she allowed God to rule, over all, her walk through the shadowy valley was easier. She walked hand-in-hand with Him, coming to a certainty that "beyond the shadow there was a brilliant light of hope and assurance." Therefore she found release from fear and a secure inner peace. She knew the God knew.
Christ's blessed invitation
One might say that Betty decided to take seriously what we might call Christ's blessed invitation. I refer to the words we all know so well: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Isn't that an invitation that you wished the whole weary battle scarred world could hear and respond to positively? It is an offer that can quiet every anxious spirit, and bring peace to every soul caught in the storms of life.
Think of the millions of people in great trouble: the refugees, the homeless, the starving, the unemployed, the sick without medical care, the mentally ill, the addicted, the victims of crime or war or political upheaval. Consider families torn asunder, children gone awry, death invading a household. Oh, how we need to spread Christ's invitation of hope far and wide: "Come to me...come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
That is what the world desperately needs to hear. A Phoenix newspaper carried a disturbing picture of two bodies sprawled upon a downtown street. The paper told the tale of a young woman who was unemployed, unable to support her child, and deeply troubled by the pressures of life. She led her five year old daughter to the top of a skyscraper and took their lives. One wonders if she ever heard the invitation of Christ? "Come to me... and I will give you rest for your souls." That is what she needed to hear so desparately. And, often we do too!
For example, what were your feelings at the time of the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, or the twin towers in Manhattan? most people were knocked off-balance, made heart-sick by the sight and prayed, wept and wondered, and thought of ways to respond, both with gifts of support, prayers, and acts of compassion.
No doubt many of us watched, by the way of television, the moving Memorial Services for the victims. And we were helped. We found solace in the words of Billy Graham, and Presidents Clinton and Bush and Governor Keating and Mayor Giuliani.
Probably the most strengthening moments, however, came when the lovely soloists sang: "And he will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of His hand." It is a song based on Psalm 91, a psalm promising security in the Lord.
We can indeed find the strength we need for every dilemma of life. God will carry us through them all, and, as Jesus' invitation assures us, give us rest for our souls.
Are you, or someone close to you, troubled or wounded? "Come to me," Jesus says to you and me today, "Come to me, and I will give you rest." This is a compelling invitation.
There are many shallow promises in our 'new age' infected society, and in the midst of them all, Jesus invites us to a relationship with himself -- where we will find stability and strength.
Come to him right now. Trust Christ with your entire being! For God want each of us to find rest for our souls!