Dear Cross of Glory Family Members and Friends,
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
And thus begins the marvelous chapter on faith and faith heroes in the New Testament book of Hebrews. The entire chapter remembers Old Testament people, not so unlike us, who chose to trust God over other inclinations. Abraham is not celebrated because he is rich. Instead, he is memorialized because he is faithful. Leaving behind what was familiar, taking God at God’s word, Abraham leaves his homeland not even sure where he is headed!
And how about that Moses? Indeed, after a rough beginning, Moses grows up in privilege and in honor. But the Bible does not celebrate Moses because he was royalty. The Bible celebrates Moses because he cast off privilege, tended sheep, and in turn, God’s chosen people, who cried for a Deliverer given hundreds of years in bondage. In faith, Moses stands against Pharaoh while standing for the Israelites. Putting his trust in Yahweh, Moses is remembered for the last 3300 years!
Hebrews chapter 11 recounts Biblical hero after Biblical hero, celebrating them because of their faith in God. The list is lengthy, containing men and women names. As the writer of the book of Hebrews moves from chapter 11 to chapter 12, the lesson is clear: Inspired by those who put trust in God, we too, are to revere, love and trust God above everything else. This is most certainly true!
But faith is rarely easy! It is tough to believe in things we cannot see. We find it difficult to believe in a God who we trust is present but not physically in front of us and a future we contend that God holds but not yet apparent to us. Questions ensue. Doubts prevail. Compromises are made. How difficult it is for us to trust, to believe, to be faithful though we have proof of God’s reliability over the years in in getting to where we have gotten.
Critics of Christianity sometimes expect Christians to have all of the answers about God, the Scriptures and the workings of the Lord (even God’s goodness) in a problematic world. They point out, in their understandings, the many problems, even contradictions they argue prevalent in the Bible. Critics expect Christians to explain away all the difficulties, all the mysteries and all the questions in an arena of intellect instead of primarily heart. If we are unable to come up with reasonable explanations for all of the difficulties in the world, a world supposedly God governs, critics choose to remain critics instead of Christians. And Christians? Sometimes we leave those conversations thinking we should have had better answers and that maybe, just maybe, critics have some rather convincing points.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
I know it may seem shallow, even elementary to respond to those questioning God with the answer, “I really don’t know.” Critics may interpret the response as truly lacking, if not altogether flippant and ill-informed. “I don’t know,” doesn’t seem to go very far but the reality, the elephant in the room, is that it would be both pompous and arrogant to respond much differently. In love, in gentleness, certainly not in ugly defensiveness or aggression, arguing just to argue, we might say the obvious. “If God is truly God, Creator of all, Redeemer of all and Sanctifier of all, how could we possibly contend to know everything there is to know about God and God’s workings in a universe scientists contend is beyond mind-blowing proportion.
A God small enough for my puny mind could not possibly be big enough for my great needs.
We are to respond to the critics of Christianity and God in general by saying it’s never been about knowledge anyway! It has always been about faith! Our belief is not steeped in logic and mathematics, (and heaven knows, science is not always trustworthy…remember when it was thought that the sun rotated around the earth and that the world was flat and that Saturn had one big ring around it and that bloodletting was the sure fire way to get rid of illness, blah blah blah blah blah)? Even today, doctors can tell us a hundred different reasons why hearts are stopped. But even the greatest of doctor minds cannot tell us how in the world the beating of a heart begins!
Rather than reach for answers that most likely will remain unanswered until as the Bible says in the Love Chapter of the Bible, First Corinthians 13, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but we shall see face to face,” let us try to believe like the heroes of Hebrews 11 that God is the answer, that God has always been the answer and that God forever will be the answer! Maybe as we wrestle with critics and our own questionings, we would do well to recount those times in our lives that God came through for us, perhaps even against incredible odds. Maybe it would be better for us to share personal stories of God’s incredible reliability, goodness, providence and protection, instances of God’s grace, things that have indeed happened, rather than to conjecture about why such-and-such did not take place.
And I will let you in on a little secret: I do not think that critics of Christianity are truly looking for intellectual answers that somehow might sway them to become believers. It may be a stretch for me, a gross judgment call, but I’m guessing that many minds are already made up about God, about the Church, about atrocities in the past and in present-day. Satisfactory answers probably will not change those bent on dismissing God. But your love for them will! Your prayers, your sincere embrace of them, your allowance (to a degree) and forgiveness, your example, your loving acts of kindness while expecting NOTHING in return will be the means by which God changes their hearts.
How interesting that we have come through these twelve days of Christmas into the magnificent Church season of Epiphany before moving into the penitent season of Lent! It’s as though we celebrate the gift of Christ in the manger only to see His Epiphany Divinity during the months of January and February before realizing Jesus humanness in the 40 days prior to Easter. Talk about mysteries! The incarnation? How is it that Jesus is at the same time totally God and yet 100% human? The same guy who feeds 5000+ hungry people with a miracle also finds himself starving in a desert? This Jesus? He can command the wind and the sea but yet bleeds from a forsaken tree? Talk about mysteries indeed!
“Lord, help our unbelief! Give us faith!”
John’s Gospel is 21 chapters long. Nearly a third of John’s Gospel is devoted to one evening of discourse, the Last Supper night. Jesus in His Divinity knows about what is to take place. He knows about the nails and the spear. He knows about Good Friday darkness at noon time. He knows that His mom Mary will be clinging to His bleeding feet at the foot of the cross wishing that she was dead herself. In His Divinity, in his God mindset, Jesus knows at the Last Supper that He will be betrayed by a kiss and denied numerous times by His closest friend and yet at the Last Supper, terrified by all these things in His humanity, Jesus’ primary concern is for His friends. He knows of His impending death and yet, principally with no regard for Himself, Jesus wants His friends to be encouraged against the darkness, against the fears, anxieties, questions and loss of it all.
Tell critics of Christianity that.
Tell critics that though you may not know all the many answers to difficult questions posed by the ills of the world, you believe that Jesus nonetheless comes to you in the darkness, in your worry and in your need. Tell critics, and assure yourself, that Jesus always has your back, that He will never fail you nor forsake you and that even in spite of yourself, “Jesus loves You THIS you know, because the Bible tells you so.”
Ash Wednesday is February 26th. Lent means Spring. Indeed, always occurring in the Spring it ushers in new life. Historically, Lent has been understood as the time prior to Easter where newcomers to the faith, in spiritual discipline, prayer, fasting and Bible Study prepared for their Easter baptisms. Hopefully, we too at church can recommit to God in disciplines of our own.
As in past years, we will be observing Lent with our friends from Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, alternating worship places Wednesday after Wednesday until Holy Week. Plan right now on being with us through the sacred season as we draw closer to the Lord who always draws close to us. And given that the Lenten season has always been about greater prayer, Bible reading and hearts all the more given to God, how about if you pick up the Scriptures and read Hebrews Chapter 11 immediately. Be encouraged by the faithful and then as you move into Chapter 12, choose to be one of the faithful followers of Christ yourself?
God’s Peace and Joy!
Pastor Mike Lemke
Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,
Let me remind you of a Robert Frost poem:
“Nothing Gold Can Stay”
Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold,
Her early leaf’s a flower, But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.
Change is inevitable. In Robert Frost’s iconic poem, Frost underlines what the preacher from Ecclesiastes bespoke 3,000 years ago. There is a time for everything. One thing gives way to another.
I am writing you this newsletter article with but six hours left in 2019. I think it is quite natural for us on New Year’s Eve night to reflect on both the joys and challenges of the last year. Thank you, Cross of Glory, for once again being such an incredible blessing in my life. I thank you for the example you consistently are in faithful discipleship. Like the Christmas star that led wisemen to Bethlehem, your light, a reflection of Christ’s, has led the way for me and so many others in our years of friendship. Thank you for encouraging me in the many ways you model Jesus and carry Him into each year.
Because of your kindness, encouragement and allowance, Barb and I were privileged to experience so many amazing, new things this past year. In the first part of our Sabbaticals, we were able to visit parts of Europe. Consequently, we saw Mount Vesuvius and the Pompeii ruins. We toured the Vatican and the Roman Colosseum. We marveled at Michelangelo’s David statue and held up the tower of Pisa. We were in southern France the day Notre Dame caught on fire and we worshipped among the French in Palm Sunday celebration and Easter New Life promise.
This Fall, I completed the second part of my Sabbatical, this with your graciousness, by studying Spanish in unparalleled Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for six weeks. Attending class Mondays through Fridays from 9 in the morning until mid afternoon, I learned how to speak Spanish in the past tense as well as in the present. Fitting isn’t it, that this evening I especially look at the past and thank you for the marvels along the way.
Barb and I have remarked several times that given the beauty of all that we experienced on Sabbaticals in 2019, perhaps the most special blessing of all is to have met so many new friends in diverse places. We were especially moved by the kindness of Frenchman Juau who invited us to his home after Easter worship. We laughed at the passion of tour guide Federico who reminded us that he was more “Rome” than “Italy” and certainly not a lover of spaghetti and meatballs IN combination. I will forever be touched by the joy of my Spanish teachers when they saw the light go off in my head upon making a Spanish word connection. I hope that this upcoming year I will be able, with your help, to introduce a Spanish-speaking worship component to our ministry.
Robert Frost, American poet laureate, forever embraced by particularly New England, got it only partly right. Nothing Gold Can Stay is a poem that suggests everything will inevitably change. Though the point is well taken and certainly underlined by the Ecclesiastes preacher, there is one thing that always remains the same. 2019 or 2020, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Word made Flesh, Emmanuel forever in our midst, will be as faithful, reliable, trustworthy and true as God had always been and forever will be.
Let us trust that the God who brings us to things will give us the grace to get through them. With that promise, we can be encouraged, always hopeful, as we go into each and every new year. To be sure, there will be joys in months ahead. There will be inevitable challenges also, but regardless, we are never, ever, alone. With lessons learned this past year, with the help of new friends, realizations that God indeed was gracious and will be, there is every reason to expect that 2020 will be an exceptional year of blessing, difference and change! As faithful disciples, depending on Jesus and his Word, let us attempt to be agents of POSITIVE change this upcoming year!
Joy to the World! The Lord has come and, just keeps coming and coming and coming! Hallelujah!
Happy New Year!
Pastor Mike Lemke