We Are Challenged but Never Hopeless

Most of us at some point in life have suffered an injury or an illness that left us feeling compromised and vulnerable. Possessing a sense of independence is important to being a productive and positive person.  It is this independence that is the essence of who we are and how we perceive ourselves. When we are dependent, we are still the same person whom God created, but we may think differently of ourselves. There is nothing inherently negative in the need to depend on others, and humility is a valuable lesson. There are however degrees of dependence and being in control of one’s mobility and decision-making which is important to our well-being.

When we have a surgical procedure, we are most often anesthetized to the point of absolute vulnerability. We are dependent on the surgeon and the team to breathe for us and monitor our heartbeat and respiration. Although we are unable to take care of our own basic needs, we are not alone. Similarly, Christians living with Alzheimer’s may not be aware of their surroundings, and they may no longer perceive God in the way they did prior to their illness. Nonetheless, God is still present with them, and is aware of the challenges that they face.

There is clarity on this point in Psalm 139:8 in which we read: “If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.” God is with us and imbues His children with talents and abilities, and while our physical state can impact those skills, we may still be aware and present. People who are in a coma are treated by their caregivers with the belief that the person can still hear and will have memories if he or she eventually awaken from this state.

The ability to heal the brain and body is strongly dependent on a person’s connection with God and to those around them. In 1 Samuel 2, and in verse 6, we read: “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up.” Even when we are seemingly so dependent on medicines and machines, we are still solely dependent on God for our life and recovery. God is aware of all that we face. Even as we lie still and perhaps unconscious, He is in control.

For the baptized member of God’s Family, we know that God’s Holy Spirit of power is with and in us as an extra measure of strength even as we undergo various trials, including illness and surgery. We pray for sick brethren for healing and God’s mighty intervention.  We are in God’s care, and we are subject to His Will.

The first use of anesthesia for surgery was back in 1846. Despite progress in the use of such medicines, much about the brain’s activity while under anesthesia is still a mystery. We know that our brain does not turn off under anesthesia, but the connectivity between parts of the brain is heavily impacted. A study with the Harvard Medical School illustrated that under anesthesia the brain quiets, and the segments no longer communicate with each other. In such a state, a person cannot be conscious or functional. Christians in that state however are still connected with God, even if they are incapable of prayer at that moment. Family, friends, and the brethren pray for the person and God is fully aware that His son or daughter is undergoing a trial. The lack of consciousness does not mean that the person is alone.

In Romans 8, and in verses 26, and 27, we learn how Jesus Christ, through His Spirit, assists us when we are vulnerable: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” In those moments when we are ill, or in an altered state of consciousness such as in a coma, or under anesthesia, when we are physically at our weakest, God is there, and Christ, through the Holy Spirit, intercedes for us. We long for the future Kingdom of God when we can be with Him and His Son. In the meantime, we are subject to the limitations of our mortal existence.

Our relationship with God however is not altered by illness or consciousness. We may feel lost and alone, but we are not. In Jeremiah 32, and verse 40, we see the explicit promise that God has made with His people: “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.” God will not leave us, and He intends that we never leave His care. It can be difficult to remember this when we lie in a hospital bed, or are confined to our homes or even within our minds. We may lose hope, but need to remember that we can ask for God’s intervention and pray for one another.

It may help us to remember that even Jesus Christ agonized that the Father had forsaken Him (compare Matthew 27:46). He did suffer unspeakable pain for us as He accepted the sins of mankind. God however had not abandoned Jesus, except for that brief moment on the cross, and He resides for eternity with the Father. Likewise, we are not hopeless; we have God’s promise and the Sacrifice of His Son to rely on. We may lament our physical reality in this lifetime, but we can trust that God hears our prayers, and He will do what is best for us.

Turn Now from Evil

The other day, I was at our local library and snow was expected.  Two employees were discussing closing early. As the one with the authority walked away, the other remarked: “Remember, use your powers for good!” We’ve heard this phrase: “use your powers for good,” typically in a light-hearted manner and most often in the superhero storyline.

People enjoy seeing underdogs overcome evil. It is satisfying watching a porch pirate or an internet scammer receive his or her due. While we are not meant to deliver retribution, it is hard to watch evil and selfish people rise to power and corrupt cities, states, and nations; we want David to overcome Goliath.

God gave us the capacity to learn and develop our skills, and we are capable of significant accomplishment. If one studied the early actions by the Nazi command in WWII, one could see the role that radar and codes had in triangulating points in England to be bombed. In this way, the German Air Force could run raids regardless of weather or darkness.

The codes the Nazis used were complex and had so many combinations that breaking them proved to be nearly impossible. Mathematicians and others were at work at Bletchley Park, 50 miles northwest of London, attempting to break the codes.

Though fascinating, our focus is on the evil that inspired the work of creating the codes that would be used to destroy British military targets and level cities rich with history, culture, and people of all ages. It was a time that evil was establishing a foothold in Europe and had eyes on conquering the rest of the world. This behavior is clear to us in the book of Isaiah, chapter 5 and verse 20, and we read: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

History is tainted by human perception, but provides some understanding of a moment in time. World domination and the eventual annihilation of a group of humans was not clear when Hitler rose to power in the mid-1930’s. The pursuit of excellence in industry, the arts, and technology is often the screen for more nefarious goals. As Hitler came on the scene, the nation was still recovering its economic footing following WWI. A leader who could galvanize people to action would have been welcome. However, understanding his deeper motivation was difficult in the early days of his role as Chancellor.

Evil can be masked and characterized in ways that people can be drawn to it and embrace it willingly. This was the case with Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin in that era. Of course, in our time, we are witnessing the rise of evil in so many ways, and it is not limited to government.

As Europe came increasingly under Nazi control, it became clear that revitalizing Germany was no longer the primary goal.  The military leaders could no longer deceive themselves into thinking that Hitler was nothing more than a strong leader. I suspect many Russian troops found themselves in a similar dilemma with their recent attempts to invade Ukraine. However, in time they too understood that the same treatment would be given to their homeland by the opposition, just as it occurred in WWII. War is evil and killing begets more killing.

In Galatians 6:7-8, we read: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” No manner of rationalization can alter this truth.

We know that God did not create us to be evil. This is the motivation of Satan; given the carnality and free will of mankind, we seek to do at times what we understand to be evil. God however wants us to obey and follow Him. In Ephesians 5:8-9, we see what God wants for us: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth)….”

Similar skills and expertise that led to the use of the codes and radar to kill, led to the creation of a replica of the code machine at Bletchley. This work began to turn the tide of the war; however, it did not end the evil and killing. The code breakers were using their skills for good, but war is immoral on all sides. We see this lesson in Romans 3:10:  “As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one.” And the point is enhanced in verse 23 of Romans 3: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Though we may believe our cause is just, unless it is God’s Will and in obedience to God, it cannot be just. Any action that leads to more killing is wrong and is not pleasing to God. He did not imbue us with skills to use for evil purposes. For example, God chose David to lead His people, but He was not pleased with David’s tendency for violence. It was God’s Will that allowed David to defeat Goliath, but in 1 Chronicles 22:8, we see how God viewed David’s war-like focus that he continued to pursue: “… but the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.’” Psalm 11:5 provides a blunt warning to all: “The Lord tests the righteous, But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.”

It may be tempting to see evil receive its due, but this is in God’s hands, and we need to focus on using our talents and abilities to honor Him with all we do. Remember, let’s all use our God-given skills for good and turn from evil whenever we confront it.

The Toxic Choice

We understand that sin is a debilitating aspect of the human existence. It takes us away from God in our thoughts and actions and separates us from Him. What is perhaps less obvious is that sin is toxic, and it impacts many around us when we choose that pathway. This Sermonette will cover Scriptures that help us to understand this and incorporate this awareness into our lives. We will also discuss the steps we can take to repair the damage we can inflict with our sins.

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Lighting Our Path

When I was doing field studies for my undergraduate degree in NY many years ago, I became fascinated with a lighthouse at the far end of Long Island. The Montauk lighthouse is the last bit of stonework between NY and Portugal. It was commissioned by George Washington in 1792 and was completed in 1796. It is among the oldest such beacons in the United States. However, there are quite a few lighthouses around the world that date back many generations.

The oldest is said to be the Hercules lighthouse in Galicia, Spain, and records date it to the 2nd century AD. Several others built in the 1500’s still survive. On our family trips to the Central California Coast, I became enamored with the Port San Luis Lighthouse that was built in 1890. The complex lens that has guided so many ships is fascinating. By design, theFresnel lens generated alternate red and white flashes of light every 30 seconds and was visible 17 nautical miles (31 km) out to sea. This lens, often referred to as “the invention that saved a million ships,” was retired in 1969 and replaced by a simple electric light.

The point is not to study lighthouses but to draw the parallel to the light of our lives that is God the Father and His Son. How easy it is in this world to lose one’s way. This is what Satan wants for us, for if we lose the path, we lose safe passage around sin. We need God’s light to guide us, and especially when we are lost and vulnerable.

Let’s consider a Scripture in Psalm 119, and in verse 105: “…Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” God’s Word is our lighthouse in this foggy, murky world that is fraught with shoals and shallows. None of us wishes to lose the gift of life that God has given to each of us, but losing one’s opportunity for eternal life is far worse. Sadly, that is exactly what can happen if we miss His light and allow the darkness to guide us. Satan does not wish us to rely on God to avoid the trap of temptation.

Consider the words of Isaiah in chapter 60, and verses 19 and 20: “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the LORD will be to your everlasting light, And your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.”

 It isn’t just the light of the beacon that guides the ships into a channel and towards the port; the beacon also provides the warning that signals captains to consult the charts and look for danger. The beacon may also be linked with a navigational signal that offers an extra measure of security. So too, God’s Word is not only the navigational star to guide us, but it also provides us with the warnings that sin is around us, and we can succumb to it if we are not on our guard.

In God’s Kingdom after the Millennium, there will be no need for the sun and the moon—nor for the lamp. In Revelation 22, and in verse 5, we read: “There shall be no night there: they need no lamp, nor the light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.” This Scripture points us back to Isaiah, both in chapter 60 as referenced above, and chapter 9 where he foreshadowed the coming light that was and is Jesus Christ. Jesus told us that He was the light of our lives in John 8, and in verse 12, where we read: “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’”

The point is that we need Jesus and the Father to navigate our course of action in this world. Without God’s mercy, we might wander aimlessly and become ensnared in the many traps that Satan sets for people in general, and the brethren in particular. We can only overcome this world by and through Jesus Christ.

 In Micah 7, and in verse 8, we read“…the LORD will be a light to me.” The Israelites paid a price for losing their way to sinfulness, but God was merciful with them as He is with us. When we repent and obey, when we are sorrowful and seek Him, He will be there to guide our way. When we turn our thoughts, actions, and obedience to God, He does not abandon us. He will guide our path and strengthen us, but we must ask in faith and in obedience. And as we read in Numbers 6, and in verse 25, the outcome is like nothing we can imagine: “The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”

 When we have faith and obey God’s commands, we can walk in His light, rather than stumble into evil. God’s expectation of us is simple: follow and obey! In Proverbs 6, and in verses 20 through 23, we see this clearly: “My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you, when you awake, they will speak to you. For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life…”

We know that God has given those of us whom He has called the path to follow and the beacon to light our way.

Quo Vadis—Where Are You Going?

In our relationship with God and His Son, Jesus Christ, we are moving either towards them, or away from them. Standing still may seem a safe compromise in this world, but it is the essence of being on the fence and presenting an undecided heart to God. The pathway that Jesus accepted to return to the Father was essential to our salvation. Jesus made clear that those who are called could one day follow. This Sermonette we will consider scriptures and examples that can help guide us on our own journey.

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The Cover Up

In this age of moral relativism people seek ways of justifying behaviors that just a decade ago were discouraged. Many who claim to be Christian seem to forget the ever-present Creator Father and His requirement for obedience. The world has become skilled at crafting legalistic reasoning to excuse truly horrible actions. Just as Adam and Eve covered themselves when they had sinned, many, including God’s people attempt to cover sinful behaviors with rationalizations. In this Split Sermon we will consider scriptures that tell us how God views these behaviors, false arguments, and the pathway to repentance.

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God Is Present—Honor Him with All You Do!

The work of physicists and astrophysicists can be fascinating. While I’ve been intrigued, my impression changed when I became aware that some have questioned the existence of God.

 They are entitled to their beliefs, but it is difficult to reconcile that one, with a deep understanding of the majesty of the cosmos, does not believe an all-powerful Creator God is at the heart of all. Still, most physicists and scientists admit that humans know only a fraction of what lies beyond what we see with the strongest instruments.

Some prominent physicists have recognized the existence of God as the Creator of all things—from Johannes Kepler who recognized that God created the cosmos in an orderly fashion, to Isaac Newton whose belief in the Truth of God cost him his position at Cambridge.

Others such as Stephen Hawking and Marie Curie did not believe in God’s existence. Albert Einstein saw the logic of a grand Creator, but he believed in the pantheistic god of Baruch Spinoza. He did not believe in a personal God who concerns Himself with fates and actions of human beings.

One theoretical physicist of note in the mid-20th century was Richard Feynman. Born in Queens, New York, in 1918, he attended a public high school in his neighborhood. This high school produced 3 Nobel Prize winners, including Feynman. During his time at Cal Tech and MIT, Feynman had a profound impact on the science of theoretical and particle physics.

Feynman was down-to-earth with a child-like curiosity about the world, and a knack for explaining complex theories. Feynman considered himself agnostic, though he stated that it was impossible for science to disprove the existence of God, and therefore science and God could co-exist.

He made an interesting point concerning unseen waves of all kinds. He imagined two people having a conversation, and at that moment there are chaotic waves bouncing around between the two. Energy waves, radiation, light, heat, and radio waves—they are all present around each of us. We know that oxygen exists though we cannot see it.  Similarly, Feynman suggested placing a radio between the two people to illustrate the existence of radio waves by tuning in to a broadcast from a nearby station, or perhaps in his day, Radio Free Europe.

As believers, we know that God exists, just as those waves, and can be present with His people even though He is not seen.  In 1 Corinthians 3:16, we read: Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

For those whom God calls, this is fundamental. As believers, we know that God is with us, and that sin drives Him away. As children, we most often misbehaved when we thought our parents were not watching. One day, when I was eight or so, I was sitting on the curb up the street from my home. I had taken matches from the house and thought it would be a good idea to start a little campfire in the gutter. When I got home, my mom was angry. A neighbor had phoned her after watching my antics. I had gotten into trouble thinking I was out of Mom’s gaze.

Why then do we sin? God knows our hearts and intentions, and it would be better to remember this and honor Him! Consider, Psalm 139:7-10, a psalm we often sing as a hymn to honor Him:

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”

We understand that God is always aware of our actions, wherever we are, much like Mom and Dad when we are young. We are human and God offers repentance, but think of God as standing next to you as you contemplate your next move—sin, or obedience? Choosing sin should leave believers remorseful. There is a remedy: repent, obey, and pray—as a first waking thought, and the last one before sleep. Proverbs 15:3 offers an image for us to take to heart: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, Keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

We cannot hide our actions or our intentions from God, so let’s not waste time justifying sinful behavior. It is better that we live each day with the understanding that God is there. We may not see Him, but we know He is there for us to turn to.

Jeremiah made the point that God is not as a limited pagan idol, but is both present and transcendent. He is everywhere through the power of His Holy Spirit emanating from Him. Let’s consider Chapter 23 of Jeremiah, and verses 23 and 24: “Am I a God near at hand,’ says the Lord, ‘And not a God afar off?  Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?’ says the Lord; ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the Lord.

God has never tried to deceive us to catch us sinning. He has been forthright as our Creator in using Scripture to illustrate that He is present with each of us. Perhaps we think that He is so busy and cannot be concerned about each person. Isaiah captured what God wants for us. In Chapter 57, and in verse 15, we read: “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’”

God is a mystery to be revealed as we seek perfection for His Kingdom. However, God is with us now and we want Him close. Sin can be as subtle as an unkind thought; others require forethought. Choosing sin is counter to being a Christian. It is also foolish and willful. Let’s choose to honor our Father with respect and the obedience that He commands. Consider how Isaiah quotes God’s words in Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

It is Written

It is easy to take all the world’s literature for granted these days—there are many choices and many outlets from which we can read, learn, and enjoy great works. Scripture is different in that it was given to mankind to get to know God and draw closer when He calls us. It is so important that we utilize the gift of the written word contained in our bible and understand that each word builds on another as God intended. In this Sermonette we will cover various scriptures that help us use these words given by God for our spiritual growth.

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Two Mountains—Only One Choice

When we do not trust in God and His promise for us, we fail to obey Him. The Israelites were brought to the edge of the promised land, yet still failed to trust in God—despite ample examples of God’s love and mercy for His Chosen. Unbelief can be our undoing and lead us into sin. This Split Sermon will cover scriptures that bring to light the choice God places in front of us, and how we can grow stronger in our faith.

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