Sunday, January 24, 2010

January 24, 2010 - "We Need the Church"

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

A Sunday school teacher asked the children just before she dismissed them to go to church, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?" Annie replied, "Because people are sleeping."

A little girl became restless as the preacher's sermon dragged on and on. Finally, she leaned over to her mother and whispered, "Mommy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?"

Church humor …

But while we might joke about it, we also read the newspapers …
Pedophile priests and the bishops who covered their tracks.
Scam artists filching the faithful, fleecing the flock.
“Jesus Camp” and the “Creation Museum” in Kentucky.
Jonestown, 1978, and barrels of red Kool-Aid.

A friend said to me recently, “The church can hurt people.”

A man raised in the Pentecostal tradition remembers hiding under the pew, so afraid was he of God.

Every time communion was served, a young boy took the juice, but didn’t swallow it, fearing the damnation of his soul, and when church was over, he’d run outside and spit it out.

As for me, I know just about everything wrong with the church.
I’ll hear complaints about Christians and say, “Do you think I don’t know that?”
I’ve been a pastor for 40 years …
I’ve seen the church at its worst, and there have been times when I could’ve walked away from the church and never looked back … let’s be clear: there’s nothing meaner than mean bunch of Christians … I’ve seen churches rip their pastors to shreds, and I’ve seen pastors fail miserably to preach the gospel.
I’ve seen churches that were nothing more than country clubs with pulpits that weren’t worth the name.
I’ve seen churches stuck in the past like a ship stuck in a mud-bank, so in love with themselves they couldn’t love anyone else.
I’ve seen churches who didn’t know Jesus and didn’t want to know him.
I’ve seen just about all of it.

But I also know everything that’s right …
I have seen the church work beautifully, wondrously, powerfully.
Mission and mercy.
Love and courage.
Forgiveness and vision.

I’ve seen the church make a stand for justice.
Sunday School teachers and choir directors doing amazing things for the glory of God.
Deacons going the extra mile.
Elders tackling the big questions.
Millions of faithful people all around the world, and God’s people right here, right now, Covenant on the Corner … singing and praying and loving God, keeping the stories alive … great stories that make great souls.

Do we need the church?
Of course we do.

It’s hardwired into our DNA
To seek divinity.
Create community.
Become spiritual leaders,
Write documents, sacred scriptures, creeds and sermons.
Sing and pray.
Do good and love one another.

It’s in our DNA …
To be religious …
Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims … all around the world – the same patterns of faith … hardwired into our DNA.

Even if we believe nothing about God … never pray and read only biographies, we still seek out one another … book clubs and jogging clubs, investment clubs and clean-the-beach clubs, Common Cause and the ACLU, the Democratic Party and the GOP.

If there weren’t a god, we’d invent one.
If there weren’t a church, we’d make one.

Do we need the church?
Of course we do - to fulfill an essential part of our humanity.

To be great souls on the face of the earth.
And to be a great soul, we need great stuff within us.
Great stories to fire our imagination.
The stories of our faith:
Creation and redemption,
Hope and peace,
Sin and forgiveness,
Time and eternity,
Heaven and hell,
Death and resurrection.

We need the patterns of our faith: Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and Pentecost, Lent and Easter.
We need the hymns of our faith:
“Joy to the World” and “Trust and Obey.”
We need the creeds and the prayers.

We need the waters of baptism and the bread and drink of the LORD's Table.
We need to anchor our week with worship!
Hats off to churches that offer worship on Wednesday night, or a Thursday morning … there’s more to this business than Sunday mornings, yet I say to you clearly and with conviction, if you can be here, be here.
If not here in the morning, go to the dogs.
And if you work on most Sunday, be here when you can.
Anchor your life with worship!
And you will find greatness slipping into your heart!

Can we do this God thing all alone?
Not very well.
Can we play soccer alone?
Not very well.

There is strength in numbers.
Pure, plain and simple.
The chemistry of the company.
It’s always better when someone else is there!

We’re like corn.
No, I didn’t say corny, though we corny sometimes.
But like a stalk of corn …
If you’ve ever uprooted a stalk of corn, it’s a shallow root system, not very deep, and not much larger than a plate… plant one stalk of corn, and it’ll blow over in the first wind.
But plant 500 acres of corn, and let the winds come.
Each stalk shelters and supports the other.

I’ve watched people go through enormous hardships, and when the storms subside, they all say the same thing: “I don’t know how I could have done it without the church, without God, and without my friends.”
It’s a package deal.
Like a software bundle.
Church, God, and friends.

We need the church.
And we need to be sure the church is the best it can be.

The best in faith, hope and love.
The best in kindness and mercy.
The best in forgiveness and peace.

The church doesn’t need to be big.
The church doesn’t need the latest in media tools.

Give me 10 people who love God passionately, and we have a church, a real church on our hands.
Give me 10 people who study the Bible and want to make this a better world, and we have a church, a real church on our hands.
Give me Covenant on the Corner – to sing the songs of faith, and lift up the name of Jesus … and we have a church, a real church on our hands, because God is here, Christ is present, the Spirit abounds.

Do we need the church?

Of course we do.
And so does the world.

What we do here this morning isn’t just for us.
It’s for the world, too.
The world needs us to be the church.
The best we can be.

To fill our lives with greatness … the greatness of God’s love.
So that we have an inner light.
A light that can shine.
Jesus said it well:
Let your light shine before others,
That they may see your good works
And give glory to your Father in heaven.

We do this for the world.
For the children.
And we have to be great in soul.
Great in peace and great in service.

Do we need the church?

Of course we do!
And let’s make the best it can be.

Are you with me on this?
I know that you are!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January 17, 2009 - "Do What He Says!"

John 2:1-11

Jesus’ mother said to the kitchen crew, Do whatever he tells you.” As the story goes, someone goofed, big time. After a few days of serious partying, they ran out of wine – talk about embarrassing. But before anyone could figure it out, Mary arm-twisted her son into doing something about it. After Jesus told the staff to fill huge jars with water, it became wine, and not just ordinary wine, but the absolute best. Upon tasting it, the party sommelier exclaimed: Wow, usually the best is first, and then the cheap stuff. But the best has been saved until now. The story highlights a central feature of our relationship to God – it’s reciprocal. We bring something to the table, and so does Jesus. Dare we say we need one another? Did God design it this way? If there had been no water, would there have been any wine? Don’t overlook the water you bring to God; it soon will be wine of the very best kind!

The story begins simply enough … a wedding celebration … and not just a one-night bash … uh uh … wedding celebrations lasted for days, with lots of food and plenty of wine … Mary is a guest at the party, as well as Jesus and the disciples.

Must have been some party.
They ran outta wine.
Thirsty guests and a slight miscalculation …

Mary says to her son, The wine is gone.
Jesus says to his Mama, Woman, what is that to me? My time has not yet come.
Do you think I care?

Good question.
Does God care?

I suspect if we were there, we would see a twinkle in his eye.
Maybe even a wink to the disciples.
Do I care about your party?

Mary knows the answer.
And Mary wants us to know, too.
Of course he cares.
He cares deeply about the party!
That’s why he’s here.

Mary turns to the servants and says confidently to them: Do whatever he says.

In the back of kitchen, six stone jars – each holding 20 to 30 gallons … for ceremonial washing, an important part of Jewish religion – the image of being clean!
And not just a sprinkle or two.
Uh uh!
Lots of water.
To scrub us down and clean us up.
To wash off the dust of the day.
The grime of life.
The dirt under the fingernails.
The grit in our hair.

One of the best parts of my day, the morning shower.
It always feels good.
Feels good to scrub down and clean up.

So here are the jars.
Sitting there.
Empty now.

Jesus says to the servants, Fill them.
I want lots of water.
Gallons of it.

The servants do as Jesus says.
Yet I can almost hear the shoptalk:
What does he want us to do?
Fill the jars?
Yeah, sure.
A lotta good that’ll do.
We’re outta wine.
And he wants us to fill water jars?

Well, he’s the boss.
We’re the servants.
We’ll do it.

And then a little detail that entertains me.

They filled them to the brim.
He wants water?
We’ll give him water.
All the water he can stand.
To the top!

Took some time and effort.
I wonder how many trips to the well.
Did they stand in a line and pass the buckets, like a fire brigade in a TV western?
Six jars to fill.
At least 120 gallons.
That’s a lot of water.
When you do it by hand, one gallon at a time.

And one gallon at a time, the jars are filled.
Whatever it is, you can do it.
One gallon at a time.

Jesus says, Now take some out and bring it to the chief steward.

No hocus pocus.
No waving of hands.
No big deal.
A simple matter of a simple partnership.
What we have, and what God does.
We have the water.
God makes the wine!

The steward had no idea they’d run out of wine.
That’s a responsibility delegated to others.
He’s the wedding planner.
The sommelier … he gives the orders, and the servants jump.
Somebody goofed.
Somebody goofed badly.
Hey, it happens, doesn’t it?
We depend upon someone to hold up their end of the bargain, and they drop the ball.
We’ve got our stuff together, but they haven’t even gone shopping yet.
We’re up at ‘em, and they’re still sleeping.
We’ve all been disappointed by others, haven’t we?

And maybe others have been disappointed by us.
Maybe we’ve dropped the ball a few times.
Maybe we forgot to go shopping.
Or set the alarm and get up on time.

I like what Jesus does here.
No announcement to the guests.
No embarrassment for the groom.
No questions asked of anyone.
There’s a need to be met.
How it happened is irrelevant to God!
Jesus goes to work.

You have water?
Bring it on.
I’ll make the wine!

Jesus takes what we have.
And turns it into wine.
A partnership of love.

The wedding steward tastes the sample and is blown away by it.
He goes to the groom and says, Wow, what a surprise. You’ve kept the best wine until now. You’re quite a guy. Most folks serve the best up front, so everyone is impressed. And when is everyone is a little sloshed, and no one cares, out comes the cheap stuff. But you, my dear friend, lavish us with the best of the best, even if we’re too wasted to know the difference.
The sommelier is totally surprised.
Had no idea the groom has such a wine cellar.

But it’s not the groom.
It’s not the servants.
It’s not the sommelier.
It’s not Mary or the disciples.
It’s God!
God saves the party!
God with us.
Our LORD and our Savior!

Working for us.
In concert with us.
Taking what we bring and turning it into wine.

The story here is the beginning of the story.
That God cares about the party!
God cares about you and me.
Our stuff.
Our lives.
Whatever and wherever.

The story hinges on two simple things:
First of all: Mary’s word to the servants: Do what he says.
That’s the first part of anything good.
Pay attention to God.
Don’t just be on your merry way when all is good.
And when things go south, don’t think you’re alone.

Do what he says.
Get in touch with God.
Pay attention to God!
And this isn’t hard.
It’s not hard to pay attention to God.
Go to church.
Read your bible.
Get involved.
It’s pretty simple … so simple, we might miss it.
But it’s simple enough, simple enough for any of us.

The second simple thing:
Fill the jars.

It takes a little work.
But it’s not impossible.
Because God begins with what we have.
God is pleased with who we are.

God always begins with WHO we are, and what we HAVE!
Our talents.
Our abilities.
Our personality.
Our character.
What we like to do.

But here’s where the rub comes.

We’re often forced into someone else’s mold.
A parent expects us to be what we’re not – you know the proverbial stories:
The boy loves poetry, but Dad wants running back.
The girl loves math, but Mom wants a little mommy.
The media shouts at us every day: be this, do this, think this, wear this … and we try like mad to be what we’re not.
And preachers, too …
The whole enterprise of religion.
Fabulous conversion stories
Impossible stories of faith have done immeasurable harm to millions, holding up impossible examples – be like this, pray like this, witness like this, and so we try, and try, and try again, and it and it doesn’t work. We either go to church glumly, or we just quit trying!
We’re miserable and tired and grumpy when we try to be what we’re not!

Show me a person critical of others, and I’ll show you someone unhappy with themselves!
Show me a bigot, or a racist, and I’ll show you someone who doubts their own worth.
Show me an angry, judgmental human being, and I’ll show you someone who goes to bed at night afraid to look at themselves in the mirror.
When we’re down on others, it’s only because we’re down on ourselves!

This is why the gospel is gospel.
Good news!
Good news for the prisoners who’ve locked themselves in, or have been locked in by other prisoners.
Good news for those who see themselves as poor and ill-equipped.
Good news for the blind who cannot see their own worth and importance.
Good news for those crippled with self-doubt and anxiety.

God always begins with WHO we are and WHAT we have.
And that’s what God wants to turn into wine.

Who are you today?
Have you been trying hard to be someone else?
To meet someone else’s expectations?
To fill someone else’s bill?
Have you bought the junk message of our world – do this, wear this, act like this … and then you’ll be happy?

Are you being true to yourself?
The Gospel message:
Our water is terrific water.
Sure, it’s not wine.
But it’s exactly what God needs to make wine!
There is no wine without God.
Without our water, there is no wine!
We need what God offers.
We offer what God wants!

The Bible tells us: The first sign.

The first of many signs, of course.
Jesus is our intersection between heaven and earth.
Jesus takes our water and turns it into God’s wine.
Jesus takes fisherman and turns them into disciples.
Jesus takes our best and blesses it with God’s best!

The Bible says, he revealed his glory.
The intent and purpose of God.
To make life good for us.
Fill in the blanks and ease our mind.
Settle our spirits and free our love.
Bring a little more wine to the party.
Keep the party going.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 10, 2010- "Sense and Nonsense"

Luke 3:15-23

What can we learn from the gospel?
What can we learn from looking at Jesus?
And does it make any sense?

We’ve all wondered, haven’t we?
Just like the folks who showed up to see John the Baptist … along the southern stretches of the Jordan River … about 15 miles east of Jerusalem, down from the cool mountains into the hot and arid wilderness, just north of the Dead Sea.

The people were full of questions … and hope, too.
Don’t we all have hope of some sort?
Of course we do.
To be alive is have to hope.
No matter how beat up we may be, no matter how tough life has been, hope is wired into our DNA.
We don’t give up easily.
And if we do give up, we give up on only for a time.
Someone comes along and surprises us with an unexpected blessing.
Something nice happens, and the light goes on in the room that was dark … a window is thrown open, curtains flutter, a fresh wind blows into the house of our soul.
Hope springs eternal.
Or we might say, the Eternal springs hope!
The Eternal God springs hope on us!
God with us.
The love of God at work in all things for good.
I will never leave you or forsake you.
I am with you always!

But Jesus is no Pollyanna …
Jesus lives in a very real world.
A world of joys, of course.
But a world of sorrows, as well.
Life is no cakewalk for the Son of God.

Because life is no cakewalk.
For any of us.

It’s complicated, as Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin play it in their recent film.
Yes, life is complicated.

A friend recently told this delightful tale: in between one business call after another, his wife called the office. They talked. And when they finished, he said, "Love you" and hung up.
One of his customers called a second later, they talked, they finished and he said "Love you," and hung up.
Realizing what he said, he offered an expletive, and called HER right back; she was laughing so hard. She said, "I knew exactly what happened!" He said, “thanks” and joked, "Well, I'm just trying to be a full-service supplier."
Life is complicated.

It was complicated for Jesus.
And it’s complicated for us.
And it’s okay to be complicated!
Life is NOT about getting all the wrinkles out of the sheets and all the creases in just the right places for our shirts and blouses.
Life is finding a purpose in the midst of the journey.
A purpose that makes sense.
A purpose that can help us with the big questions.
Why are we here?
What are we to do?
Where are we going?

From Christ, a purpose.
A good purpose, a worthy purpose.
Big enough to encompass everything else.
A purpose that makes sense in a world with more than it’s share of nonsense!

Our purpose?
To love God.
To love others.
And what is love, but to seek the wellbeing of those we love!
When we love God, we bless God.
We bring pleasure to God’s heart.
And we when we love our neighbor, we help them.
Smooth out the road ahead.
Level the rough places.
Make it easier for folks.

Prepare the way of the Lord,
      make his paths straight.
      Every valley shall be filled,
      and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
      and the crooked shall be made straight,
      and the rough ways made smooth;
      and all flesh shall see the salvation of God

We can do it.
We really can!
And we ARE doing it!

Tomorrow, we’ll get up and go to work.
Some of us are gifted to make money, and we can leverage our money, to change the world, and still have enough left for a nice car.
We’re teachers and we’re builders.
We’re bankers and machinists.
We’re engineers and we’re firefighters.
We’re city employees and we’re entrepreneurs.
We’re attorneys and we’re police officers.
We’re actors and we’re filmmakers.
We’re nurses and we’re homemakers.
We’re young and we’re old.
We’re short and we’re tall.
And we’re all remarkable!
Every last one of us.

Everyone of us is living the love of God!
Everyone of us is making a difference.
Every smile.
Every prayer.
Every pilgrimage to Covenant.
At home and work and play.
We are living,
We are building.
The love of God!

With all the great faiths of the world, we share a common purpose - straighten crooked roads … fill in the valleys, take the high places down a peg or two, smooth out the rough places.
If Christ came for any reason whatsoever, Christ came to make this purpose a reality of us.

And Christ backs it up with his own life on the line.
With a simple message for each of us:
It’s going to be all right.
No matter what, it’s going to be all right!

To the woman at the well with her life upside down, It’s going to be all right.
To a lonely man up a tree, It’s going to be all right.
To a blind man beside the road, It’s going to be all right.
To Peter who denied him, It’s going to be all right!

A simple message, for sure!
But it’s true.
It’s the gospel.
It’s the love of God.
It’s our hope.
It’s going to be all right!
No matter what, it’s going to be all right.

Back in Detroit, I did a lot of bicycle riding, and often rode through two huge Jewish cemeteries, side by side … one was for Orthodox synagogues, the other was for Reform synagogues – even in death, they were divided, but with only a simple wrought iron fence; they could at least see each other.
The cemeteries were safe places to do some serious biking – good roads, no traffic, quarter-mile straightaways and plenty of curves.

From time-to-time, I’d stop to wet my whistle, and look at the graves … Mrs. Sophie Horowitz, faithful wife and mother and a loving grandmother … David Baumgarten, two-years old, beloved son of Anna and Frederick … “he lived but awhile, but our love for him is forever.”

Every grave, a story.
Every story, profound.

And I could always hear a simple message echoing from ten thousand voices: “We did it, and so will you.”
It’ll be all right.
No matter what, it’ll be all right!

Strength for the journey.
Bread for the soul.
The courage to get up and the will to keep going.
To make it one more day, if that’s what it boils down to.
And sometimes it boils down to just one day at a time.

The recent film, “A Single Man,” starring Colin Firth as college professor, George, captures the heart of grief better than anything I’ve ever seen.
George’s lover of 16 years is killed in an auto accident, so George is now alone, and life is unbearable, fear and sadness at every turn … George looks at himself in the mirror in the morning and says, “Just make it through the day. Just make it through the day!”

Life isn’t easy!
And it wasn’t easy for Jesus either.

Yet we learn from Jesus; his message gives strength for the journey:
Stay with it.
Remember the basics.
Love God  and love your neighbor, as best you can.
Forgive deeply and forgive quickly, and you will be forgiven, too.
Be generous and be kind; it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Trust God even when you can’t, and trust God even when you don’t want to.

I think trusting God is tough sometimes.
It was tough for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It was tough for Jesus dying on the cross.
Trusting God ain’t for sissies!

Nor is love.
Love and trust go hand in hand.
Trust opens our heart to the flow of love.
So, when we trust God, peace and love come our way.
But we’re not consistent, and that’s okay!
Life is complicated.

We love God fiercely sometimes …
And sometimes our love evaporates like a stray raindrop on a July sidewalk in Enid, Oklahoma.

We love our neighbor as we love ourselves, as long our neighbor doesn’t get too pushy.

Love is a challenge.
Because love calls for behavior.
Sometimes love is sentimental – a warm, gushy feeling.
But love is ALWAYS ethical, even when the feelings are not so warm and gushy!

The test of our love is laid out for us in the life and teaching of Jesus.
To love those who don’t love us, and may never love us.
To love those who don’t know us, and don’t want to know us.
To love even the enemy.

I think that’s a tall order, don’t you?

But it’s the kind of love God gives to the world.
Because the world doesn’t always love God.
The world doesn’t always know God.
And sometimes the world is God’s enemy.
And sometimes it’s not just the world out there.
It’s you and me, isn’t it?
We don’t always love God.
We don’t always know God.
And sometimes we’re God’s enemies!
But Jesus says it well: God is just and God is kind – God gives rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous, to the deserving and the undeserving, to those who are in and to those who are out – to everyone. No questions asked.

It was Peter the Apostle who later discovered and proclaimed to the world, God is no respecter of persons. God loves everyone with an equal fervency and an equal desire for their wellbeing.
For God so loved the world!
And Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Love is never easy!
Never has been; never will be.
I walked by a parked car in a grocery store lot a few days ago … a man and woman … who were they? I don’t know. But I heard raised voices; I didn’t eavesdrop and kept on walking … I thought to myself, Love is never easy, even for lovers!

But stay with it, because Jesus did.
Jesus faced all kinds of barriers, and he stayed with it.
All kinds of disappointments, and he stayed with it.
Resistance and resentments, and he stayed with it.
All the way to the cross.
All the way to hell.
And back again!

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead and buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead!

When folks thought Jesus was finished, he wasn’t.
When Pilate washed his hands and walked away, Jesus would live another day.
When it seemed as if the curtain were down for good, it was but an intermission!

Folks might think we’re down and out.
But we’re not.
We might even think we’re down and out.
But we’re not thinking right.
Because God raises us from the dead.
No matter what … IT WILL BE ALL RIGHT!
To God be the glory!
Amen and Amen!

January 3, 2010 - "Firm Foundation"

Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14

January 3, in the tenth year of the 21st Century.
Happy New Year Covenant on the Corner!
Happy New Year!

And the Second Sunday after Christmas.
The 12 days of Christmas, and a partridge in pear tree.

We take a few days to catch our breath.
Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, we ponder these things in our heart:
What child is this, who laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet While shepherds watch are keeping?

The season after Christmas is a good time.
A time to sing praises to our God.
For God is gracious and a song of praise is fitting.

But where do we go from here?
In this fast-paced world of ours,
Where everything changes in a heartbeat.
Wars and rumors of war.
Fanatical young men strap explosives to their underwear.
Politicians tell us the sky is falling, and play upon our fears for their own unsavory ends.
Megachurch pastors offer the latest spiritual fix while building empires.
Peggy Noonan writes of our current state of affairs:
American “… institutions forgot their mission, they entered the empire of spin. They turned more and more attention, resources and effort to the public perception of their institution, and not to the reality of it.”

Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the porridge is too hot, too cold, and we can’t seem to find “the just right.”

Is there a place to stand?
For you and for me?
That really makes sense?
For courage and faith?
Is there a firm firm foundation, or is everything just pudding?

Scripture offers a resounding Yes!
There is a place to stand.
More than stand, but to live.
And to live well!

The Psalmist wrote:
The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted,
And binds up their wounds.
He covers the heavens with clouds,
Prepares rain for the earth,
Makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the animals their food,
And to the young ravens when they cry.

It begins with a simple idea: It’s all about God!

When I was in seminary, Donna and I were out one Sunday to a church where I was preaching for the day.
I remember referencing a text from 2 Corinthians:
Jesus Christ is not “Yes and No” …
But in him it is always “Yes.”
For in him, every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.”
For this reason, it is through him that we say
The “Amen” to the glory of God.

That Sunday, I preached assurance.
God can be trusted.
God’s love is absolute and final.
Unconditional and irreproachable.
The same today, tomorrow and forever!

I quoted from Karl Barth … a young seminarian needs to lift up a few good quotes now and then from notable theologians.
This week, I went back to Barth, and though I’m not very young any more, I quote Barth with pleasure:
The Gospel, writes Barth “… is not a mixed message of joy and terror, salvation and damnation. …. It does not proclaim in the same breath both good and evil, both help and destruction, both life and death. …. … the final word is never that of warning, of judgment, or punishment, of a barrier erected, of a grave opened. …. …therefore, the first and last word is Yes and not No” (Church Dogmatics, Vol. 2-2, p.13).

At the door of the church after worship,
An elderly gentleman greeted me, grasped my hand firmly with both of his hands.
He looked at me intently, his cheeks wet with tears.
He asked,
“Will God smile on me some day?”

I no longer recall what I said.
But I’ll never forget the feel of his hands or the poignancy of his question.
I’m sure this man had spent much of his life in church.
Prayers and hymns and sermons weeks after week.
And now, in the twilight of his years, there was only an aching question in his soul, “Will God smile on me someday?”

That moment confirmed the purpose of my ministry: to preach grace, morning, noon and night, in season and out of season.
Amazing grace, the pure, absolute, grace of God … at work in all things for good, for this life, and most assuredly, for the life to come.
The “Yes” of God …

The man at the door, with tears in his eyes - “Will God smile on me some day?”
I made sure that the rest of my life would be devoted to one simple message: the love of God is real, and in Christ Jesus, we see the intent and purpose of God, free and clear!
For God so loved the world!

The Gospel is NOT a mixed message of hope for some and terror for others.
The Gospel is NOT uncertain about the outcome.

The outcome, dear friends, has been settled!
Settled in the heart and mind of God from the moment God became a tailor and sewed clothing for Adam and Eve.
From that moment on, God has been a tailor for all of us.
Good clothing, durable clothing!
Clothing us in the raiment of Christ [Galatians 3:27].

Let there be no doubt in our hearts about the faithfulness of God.
We will fail, but God never fails.
We may be faithless, but God remains faithful.
We will sin, but God’s forgiveness is greater.

We are saved, because of God’s commitment to us!
For his name’s sake, God leads us upon righteous paths.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

Why has the church’s message so often been the exact opposite of assurance?
I’ve known hundreds of people throughout the years, in church all of their life, doing good for God, but their soul is sad – they don’t know that God has smiled on them … like the man at the door, there’s an aching question in their soul.
The peace of Christ is missing.

Are you unsure of God’s intentions toward you right now?
Are you doubtful about the end?

If you answer Yes, you’ve been a victim!
A victim of the church’s failure to preach the Gospel.

Some of us heard hellfire sermons when we were young, and it frightened us.
And maybe it wasn’t hellfire we heard.
Maybe just the admonition to be good.
You better watch out,
You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
God is coming to town.
He's making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice.
God is coming to town.

We are invited by Christ to live in a different place.
The Gospel.
Forgiveness and mercy.
A new day dawning.
A fresh start, all things made new.
A firm foundation.

Love now, and heaven later – a package deal!

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 …
In Christ, we are:
We are holy and blameless.
Forgiven and redeemed.
Destined for adoption as God’s children.
Riches of grace lavished upon us.
Marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

Christ has done it all.
Christ has passed the test.
The victory Christ won, Christ won for us.
For you, and for me!
For all the world!

To know Christ DOES make a difference … Christ IS our firm foundation!

Are you with me on this?
I know that are!

Happy New Year, Covenant on the Corner.
Happy New Year!

Amen and Amen!


The final hymn of the day: "How Firm a Foundation"

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”