Small Churches and the Circuit Pastor

I have been reading a lot of material about grant writing in the age of an uncertain economy.  One of the things that has caught my eye is that grantors are looking to fund groups that are willing to cooperate.  The example given was how three groups came together and were willing to share a development coordinator with each group getting $50K to fund the $150k salary and expenses needed to get a person with the education and experience they group needed.

Small Baptist churches are having a hard time getting educated experience ministers to come and to serve them.  They are having even a harder time paying them.   Many of the smaller church were talked into selling their parsonages during the “prosperous” 80’s and 90’s with the idea that a minster could buy his own house.  Now, with the housing market gone crazy and the economy so unstable, churches without a parsonage are at a disadvantage in calling pastors of the caliber and energy they need.   No one in the ministry wants to take the chance of being stuck with a house they might not be able to sell.  Give the capricious nature of many small stressed out churches, this is understandable.

What if churches would cooperatively participate in sharing the skills and services of a well trained, committed minister?  Yes, there would need to be compromises on service times and office hours, but the trade off would be getting well thought our sermons, skilled spiritual counsel and education support to equip the saints rather than just getting someone who will use them as a stepping stone to something else.  And if churches would do this they would have more money to do ministry.

Add to this the concept of a ministerial guild to help make sure the pastors these churches got were accountable and peer supported and you have the framework for bringing life back into the smaller churches who are struggling just to keep the doors open.  The guild would be responsible for ongoing educational and professional training as well as screening out the sexual predators  and deceptive opportunists who are in ministry for money.

Just an idea, but would love to hear your thought on this concept.

Sermon for Sunday Morning June 27, 2010

Luke 9:51-62     Spiritually Fit

There is a conscious effort by educational and health care leaders to encourage people in this country to get into better physical shape. The reason for this is that our country has become a sedate, overweight nation. The majority of folks are not physically fit.

Dineesh D’ Souza, a Chistian writer/speaker, in his column “What’s So Great About America?” writes: America gives a better life to the ordinary guy than does any other country. I asked an acquaintance in Bombay why he has been trying so hard to relocate to America. He replied, “I really want to move to a country where the poor people are fat. This says a lot about the condition of our nation.

The lack of physical fitness produces health problems, limits our ability to deal with stress, and produces a weakness that eventually lessens our quality of life. It is a frightening situation. However, as out of shape as our country is physically, the lack of spiritual fitness in the light of trials and tribulations that we are guaranteed to face is even more frightening. Please allow me to elaborate.

Our passage this morning begins with Jesus beginning his journey toward Jerusalem where he will be crucified. He knows hard, hurting times are ahead. He is ready for what most of us would run from. He is prepared for what would cause us to panic. He also knows that his life, his incarnation, is the ultimate revelation of the nature or God and the example of how we should then live. What he is about to do he will do for us. Jesus words and actions reveals to us key aspect of what is needed for spiritual fitness. And why would we want to be spiritually fit? Let me tell you. Whereas we are not journeying to Jerusalem to be crucified, we are going to have to deal with depressingly deep disappointments. We are going to face frightfully frustrating failures. We are going to have to go through serious sorrows, losses, and grief. This is the reality of life.

You may not have to go through a physical test of running a mile or climbing a mountain, but you will face the tests of hostile world, unpredictable circumstances and sorrowful situations. It is not a matter of if, but of when. What resources, spiritual resources do you have help you, to heal you, to give you hope? Jesus wants to be that resource. He wants to be our healing, our help and our hope.

Notice verse 51 tells us Jesus resolutely began his journey. The word translated resolutely does not indicate a blind willingness, but an established confident willingness to face what would be faced. Jesus was all about showing confidence, a confidence that was established in his relationship with God the Father and confidence in his Father’s will.

Jesus can give us this kind of confidence. How do we develop this confidence? We build it through prayer, through spending time getting to know him through the Scripture, and learning to follow the guidance he gives. Confidence comes through knowledge and experience. The more we resolutely chose to listen, learn, and let Jesus lead, the more spiritual fit we will become. (Song: Lily of the Valley)

Next Jesus in verses 52-56 Jesus does not react, but responds. There is an important difference. When we react the situation defines our behavior. When we respond we are in control of how we act. Rejection can be hurtful. It can lead to anger, embarrassment, fear, and resentment. Respond rather than reacting is a difficult skill to develop, but one that God’s Spirit will help. Reactions are often defensive actions. Jesus is not accepted by the village and the disciples react by wanting to defend the honor of Jesus. If Jesus needs defending he cannot be God. Besides, I am sure Jesus felt pity for this Samaritan village. Why, because they had brought something upon themselves worse than fire from heaven. The Samaritans had been given a witness of who Jesus was and they did not care. They reacted to him out of their hatred for the Jews. They did not just reject Jesus, they rejected God’s salvation. What those folks are most likely experiencing now would make fire from heaven a wonderful break. There is only one sin that cannot be forgiven, the sin of rejecting Jesus.

There are a lot of people today who reject Jesus. They reject him out of reaction. They reject him because of their experience with other “Christians”, because of the church, because of what others have said. They don’t like the preacher or they blame God for difficulties in their own life. They do not give Jesus a chance. If they would take the time to listen to his love, take the time to learn about what he offers and then respond rather than react they would find a life they had no idea existed. (Read Psalm 1:1-3) This is how to develop the spiritually fit way to respond rather than react.

Verses 57 through 62 reports to us a series of encounters Jesus has. Three individuals come up to Jesus and claim they want to be his followers. Folks let there be no doubt about it, even though Jesus was total a man, he was also God in the flesh. You cannot hide your motives, your intent, or your true feeling from Jesus. You can fool friends, family, and even yourself, but nothing gets past Jesus. Jesus had become famous. People were seeking him out. Many had wrong motives. In these three encounters we find things which spiritually weaken us, but in Jesus responses we can find the resources to be spiritually fit.

The first encounter teaches us about the reality of what we can expect to receive as his followers. Why does Jesus respond to the man the way he does in verse 58? Jesus is making it clear that there are no promises of stature or status, no guarantee of rewards in this world made by Jesus. Those that promise or imply health and wealth are either deeply deceived or their motives are monetary. What Jesus does promise is his presence. He promises his peace. He promises God’s pardon, and he promises a place in God’s grand plan. He offers us a purpose filled life. He promises he will provide the parameters that will keep us spiritually fit (Song: In the Garden). This is Jesus’ promise.

The second individual comes to Jesus and states is desire to follow but makes a request to delay. Jesus responds in a way that hopefully helps us to recognize the ease of our excuses. Let me bury my father. The man said. What was he doing their in the first place if his father needed to be buried. Folks I live in the world of the excuse. It is the most frustrating part of being a pastor. I am not just talking about those who are lost. I can understand why they make excuses. Those who are dead in their sins exist only for the dead. Scripture tells us: 1 Corinthians 2:14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. No, I am talking about those who say they want to be followers. Every week I am given excuses as to why people are not here. Why they do not join us to pray. Why they do not tithe or support the church. Why they will not serve. Excuses harden our spiritual heart. They clog the flow of God’s blessings. They make us senile to God’s word. When we make excuses for not doing what God has called us to do we turn churches into spiritual graveyards and the Kingdom becomes a tragic comedy. (Joke: Man did not want to get out of bed and go to church. Why, his wife asked? The folks talk bad about me, they never sing the songs I like, and they don’t listen to anything I have to say. Why should I go? Because, she replied, you are the pastor.)
Spiritual fitness does not allow excuses.

The last person that comes also states he wants to follow Jesus. He makes what would be seemingly the most reasonable of requests. Why does Jesus answer this person so harshly. Why did Jesus claim that because he wanted to say good bye to his family he wasn’t fit for the Kingdom? It was not about his family, it was about his regrets. The decision to follow Jesus is just that, a decision to follow. Jesus is heading to the cross. Jesus is going to give his life that we can enter the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus is all in and expects the same from us. If there is anything that keeps us from following the Lord, this world will use it. Jesus does not ask us for an hour on Sunday. Jesus does not ask us to join a social club. Jesus does not accept convenient Christianity, comfortable Christianity, or cultural Christianity. Jesus calls us to a committed, cross-carrying, conviction bearing, change bringing faith that will not make us say good bye to our families but bring blessings that our families so need. If we do not understand this we will never be spiritually fit for the Kingdom of God.

Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In the parable the rich man, ends up in hell. He was a successful man, a prosperous man, but he was faith was not real. He cared for his family. How do we know? He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to them to warn them. Abraham tells him they have the Scripture. They have the word of God. If they will not follow in faith, not believe what God has revealed then even if someone came back from the dead they would not believe.

Folks, at the end of our lives all that will matter will be our relationships and ultimately, the question for which there is no excuse will be the one God asks, “What did you do with my Son? Did you follow him? Did you accept the life he gave for you?” Our spiritual fitness will determine if this will be a time of rejoicing or regret. Jesus is calling. Come you who are burdened, come you who are weary, come you who are troubled, come you whom I love and desire and I will give you rest. Will you follow Jesus or continue without resolve, reacting rather than responding, making excuses until it is too late? Or, will you make a decision, a committed focused spiritually fit decision to follow Jesus.

A Tribute to Real Friends

The ministry can be a very lonely place.  Time and time again I have experienced the hurtful outcome of allowing church members to become social friends.  Before the Baptist wars turned brother against brother, a pastor could usually find a friend in a local association.  Some are still able to do this.  Thanks to a lawsuit, I cannot.

If, though, you ever have to take a stance that puts you on the “outside” of those who are perceived to have power, you will find out who your real friends are.  There is nothing like being perceived as a “trouble maker” to make “friends” dry up faster than a daisy in the desert.

I once knew a man who would close every conversation we had with the words “love you like a brother”, until he needed a job that rewarded him to spy and report on me.  Who needs that kind of a friend.  I sent this one packing and will not make the mistake of trusting him again.

Then there is the fellow who has stood beside me through thick and thin.  A person whose status and stature are far superior to mine.  He has nothing to gain by being my friend.  I have very little to offer him.  He puts up with my drama and does not fear my temper.  He does not let my foolish go unchallenged, nor does he try to tone down my desire for truth.  He seeks to help me (even though I am one who has committed denominational suicide).  In trying to help me he risks losing other friends.  He tries to open doors for me even though to do so is most likely the one of most frustrating tasks anyone could take on.

This man is a friend.

I used to have big names on my resume’.  I used to be able to pick up the phone, make a call, and not be put on hold.  I still can make the call and not be put on hold, but this is more out of fear than friendship.  Now, no one wants to be near me.  Denominational workers have been threatened with firing if they talk to me.  No one wants their name anywhere close to mine.  I am dangerous to them.

My friend doesn’t care.

I know that what I have done was right and righteous.  I know that one day I will hear the words well done.  I know the Lord will put my enemies at my feet.  I hope I have the opportunity on that day to ask the Lord to honor my friend.  He has honored me no matter what outcome lies ahead.

Morning Sermon June 20, 2010

Deuteronomy 4:1-9  Teach Your Children Well

There was a song by the band, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young that goes:

You who are on the road, Must have a code that you can live by And so become yourself Because the past is just a good bye. Teach your children well, Their father’s hell did slowly go by, And feed them on your dreams The one they picked, the one you’ll know by. Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry, So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

The song was based on a photograph which depicts a child with an angry expression holding the toy weapon.  This picture prompted Nash to reflect on the societal implications of messages given to children about war and other issues.  It is also a reminder that children are dependent upon their parents to teach them how to live.

Question, what do we teach our children?

Perhaps the greatest sorrow Adam experienced after the fall was not the loss of the garden, but knowing that because of his action, his children would suffer.  When Cain killed Able, part of Adam died.   Unless you have gone through such an experience you cannot come close to knowing the pain.  God knows, and his pain was even greater as he restrained himself will his only Son was killed by the covenant children that he loved.

In our passage today, Father’s day, we find God speaking to the children of Israel.  It is a passage of promise, of covenant, but also a passage that is intended to remind us that what we sow, so shall we reap. What this passage tells us is that God has given us instructions that lead to life.  We are given the same responsibility given to Adam.  We are to teach the ways and means of our Lord.  Again, the question, what do we teach our children?

There are all kinds of theory and ideas being expressed by people who view themselves as experts on the moral development of children.  However, it does not matter which theory or school of thought one accepts the one constant factor is that children learn from what is modeled by their parents.   From birth to age six, the primary caregiver is also the primary model for a child as they develop physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  Again, what do we teach our children?

Our country understands the value of education.  This is why we have compulsory education laws.  In our schools we teach our children to read and write, do math and learn about science.  But what do we teach them about God and his word?  Look again at verses 7-9 of Deuteronomy 4.  As we look at this passage we view it in the light of history.  The history of Israel is a history of divine providence and intercession.  No other nation has faced such hardships and yet still exists today.  When God’s covenant people kept the promise of this passage, they and their children prospered.  When they profaned this promise they and their children knew pain. Again, what do we teach our children?

In the Old Testament Scripture, there seems to be a contradiction in God’s law.  In Deuteronomy 24:16 the Scripture states:  “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own.”  However, in Exodus 20:5 we are told: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,”.  Is this a contradiction?  No, it is not.  The passage in Deuteronomy speaks to our direct relationship to God.  It is appointed for us to die once and then the Judgment.  We and we alone are accountable for our sins.  This is an issue of our hearts, of conviction.

There is a story of a young boy and hands a very poor report card to his father and then makes the statement, “What do you think the reason for this is, genetics or environment?”  Our culture is good at making excuses, but before the Creator of the Universe we are without excuse.

The passage in Exodus is not dealing with the issues of our hearts, but upon the issues of our culture.  It is about modeling a false faith and thus creating a fragile and fearful future for those who follow.  When a culture abandons the revelation of the light God has given them, then it becomes hard for those generations who follow to overcome the darkness.  What do we teach our children?

Folks the last words, the last promise and warning of the Old Testament is this: Malachi 4:6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”  This is the promise of the message sent from God.  God was going to provide a way for fathers and children to be blessed.  He would do this through the human heart.

What do we teach our children?  Our culture models that what matters is money.  Our culture models do what you want as long as you don’t get caught.  Our culture teaches that church is just another entertainment option and that the Bible really doesn’t have that much relevance other than an accessory for Sundays.  We teach our children that the spiritual is not that important but the secular is everything.

What do we teach our children?

Fathers, do your children see you reading the Bible?  Do they know you pray?  Do you pray with them?  Do you praise the Lord with your children?  Do they know God is important to you?  How important is the church in your life?  It was very important to Jesus.  Do you children know you tithe?  Do you believe God meant what he said in Malachi 4:6 when he said “or else I will come and strike the land with a curse”?   What do you teach your children?

We live in a country that has been blessed but is obviously on the edge of being judged.  But there is still a way out.  There is still time for us to come to our senses and change.  We can still claim the promises of God because of who our heavenly father is and the example that he has given to us.  Jesus, the Son of God, came to this world as a fulfillment of the last words of the Old Testament.  He came to bring us spiritual birth.  He came to make us children of God.  He came and modeled for us how we should live and love.  He told us he and the Father were one and he proved it.  He showed us that living for this world was a mistake and the shallow life it offers is the way of death, the curse.  He showed us by lying down one’s life to the Lord is the way to restoration and renewal.  He came to make us one with the Father.  He gave his life to do this so that if we would but believe in him we would find the way.  He now stands with the Father awaiting our time.  Be he did not leave us alone.  In John 16:8 we are told: “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment”, the He is the very Spirit of Christ that lives in the heart of those who accept Jesus.  He teaches us what we need.  He teaches us through the Word, through our gathering, our worship and service to one another.

What do we teach our children?  It is not too late to listen and to learn. It is not too late to love and lead.  It is not late Dads to stand and declare, as for me and my house, we will love the Lord.  Jesus, our Savior, our God, our living revelation of the Father calls to us.  We must decide.  Today you have an opportunity to make things right.  Today you have the chance to take the initial steps of example setting that leads to life, which leads to the Lord.

I have written some different lyrics for the song I began this sermon with:  “You who are on life’s road, need more than a code, that you can live by, And if you live the truth to sins of the past, you must say good bye.  Teach your children well, As father’s shall upon God rely, and feed them from the Word, the one God gave, the one you live by.  Yes, they will ask why, tell them without lie, just why Jesus had to die, and tell them not to cry, because God loves you.”

Sunday Morning Sermon June 13, 2010

Luke 7:36-8:3    If He Only Knew

We live in a very critical time for the church in America.  We are more concerned about what we have than who we are.  Our cultural influence is more ritual than real.  Our outreach is more about marketing than making disciples.  We are moved more by the media than our message, thus we are easily manipulated by political parties, used by the powers and principalities and have become ignorant of our potential and irresponsible with God’s promises.  Are we the called out people of God or have we been co-opted to such an extent that we are more a burden than a blessing?  Can we possibly once again be a people who illuminate the person of Jesus or are we condemned to be no more than an irrelevant repository of a faded faith?

In our passage today, Jesus speaks a parable to a Pharisee.  Pharisee means “set apart”.  The Pharisees were not bad people.  They stood for the common folks (the Sadducees were the elitists).  The Pharisees wanted to live by the revealed word of God.  They believed every child of the covenant should be like the priests, honoring God in their everyday lives.  However, the Pharisees, like the church in America today were seduced by temptation to be a device of cultural control rather than source of light to fallen humanity.

Jesus parable appears to be about forgiveness, but in reality it is much more.  It is about the understanding the relational requirement for being in the will of God and gaining the proper perspective of what the promises of God are all about.

Jesus uses an economic illustration of two debtors.  The Pharisee uses logic to answer the question.  By using logic he misses the deeper intent of the parable.  It is not just about the forgiveness of a debt, it is about the very nature of God.  Where do you get that preacher?  The forgiveness of the debt comes at the sacrifice of the one to whom the debt is owed.  By asking the question based on a response in love, Jesus addresses the situation in which the parable is applied.  Who will love more?  The answer is still the owner who cancels the debt.

(This exchange reminds me of the song, “He paid a debt he did not own I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away.  And now I sing a brand new song Amazing Grace, Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay).

Now let’s look at the rest of the passage.  The Pharisee has asked Jesus to his house, yet he does not treat Jesus as an honored guest.  No, he invited Jesus because he wanted to size Jesus up.  He was looking for mistakes.  Jesus presented a challenge to his way of life.  He wanted to see if Jesus met his standards of righteousness.  When the woman of the story comes to the house, the Pharisee sees an excellent opportunity to judge Jesus.  Look again at verse 39.  Simon thinks he has found a weakness.  If Jesus only knew!  Oh, but Simon, he did know!

We are told in this passage that this woman had lived a sinful life.  What does this mean?  The Old Testament Scripture teaches that all of us like sheep have gone astray.  The New Testament reinforces this by stating, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  To live a sinful life is to be absorbed into this reality.  Did she know she was living a sinful life?  Yes, as does everyone who lives a life apart from the guidance of God.  It is hard-wired into us.  Romans 1:20-21 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  (funny illustration:  When I printed this verse, my grammar checker said it was a fragment and needed revising.)  We all sin.  We all know we sin, but many instead of turning to God, instead of listening to Jesus, just revise what we hear.  We follow the world that tells us not to listen to God.  We make the will and word of God simply a sentence fragment in our lives.  No wonder there is so much pain, suffering, and sorrow.

Still, in spite of our orientation toward living a sinful life, the Scripture tells us that God loves us.  God reaches out to us.  God makes a great sacrifice for us.  Yes he hates sin.  Yes, he is a God of justice whose judgment can and will cast an unrepentant soul into the depths of Hell, this is not his desire.  This is not what he is about.  His laws are given for our good and he gets no satisfaction from our pain. Ezekiel 33:11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!‘ Simon, as a Pharisee could only see the woman’s past and not God’s possibilities.

One of sad truths of this passage is often overlooked.  Even though the Pharisee thought he was not living a sinful life, that his life was superior to that of the woman, in reality his sin was as great if not greater than her sin.  As Jesus would teaches: Matthew 7:1-2 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

OK, why did this woman, with a sinful lifestyle seek Jesus out?  Did she want to try and bring him down to her level?  Was she seeking to seduce him, to embarrass him?  The sinful lifestyles of this world are always trying to do that.  Many a minister’s ministry has been compromised by this kind of seduction.

No, she comes to Jesus because she came to her senses.  Jesus tells another parable about a boy who takes his inheritance and wastes it on sinful living.  When his money is gone so are his friends and so was his fun.  He found himself starving and caring for pigs that were better off than him.  Jesus tells us that when he hits rock bottom, then he realizes something is wrong and seeks to return to his father, to his home.  The Scripture tells us he came to his senses.  The sinful lifestyle has its pleasures but they can never satisfy the emptiness in our hearts.  Our hearts were made for God and as long as we are in the embrace of the world, that emptiness will gnaw at our heart.  Hopefully we too will come to our senses.

Anyway, this woman hears about Jesus.  How she hears we are not told, but she hears and seeks him out.  She brings the best she has to offer.  She humbles herself and bows at his feet.  She comes hoping he can do something about that emptiness and Jesus does.  She doesn’t try to make a deal. She doesn’t set conditions.  She doesn’t make excuses.  She just comes, repentant, and tries to give Jesus her best.  How does Jesus respond?  He accepts her.  He tells her the emptiness will now be gone.  He tells her, “Your faith has saved you.”  Again, not will save, might save, could save, but past tense has saved.

Why does the Bible have this story?  What is its purpose?  It is twofold.  One, it gives us a perfect picture of the mission of our Lord.  He came to seek and save the lost.  Second, we are given a chance as to decide who we want to be like.  The choice is ours.

Sunday Morning’s Sermon – Luke 7:11-17

Luke 7:11-17  Here is Hope

There is an old story of a servant of a wealthy merchant who sees death coming toward his master’s house.  He runs to his master and says, “Sir, death is here for me, what should I do?”  The master said, “Quick, take my fastest horse and flee to Bagdad.”  The servant did.  Death came into the room and the master asked him, “Why did you surprise my servant so?”  “Surprise him”, death replied, “He surprised me.  I could not understand why he was here when I have an appointment tonight with him in Bagdad”.

Folks, there is no human way to escape death.  It is appointed to us all to face this ancient foe.  Earnest Becker, in his Pulitzer prize winning book, The Denial of Death, points out that in all of creation, only humanity is aware of our mortality.  We all live with the knowledge we are going to die.  The anxiety of this knowledge is part of the curse/Fall.

Yet, within the pages of this book, from the very mouth of God, we are given the opportunity to gain an understanding that can take the anxiety of death away.  This is not an act of psychological repression, the “no fear” illusion that humanity may try to embrace, but a comforting power that allows us to trust not in our own ability to overcome this foe, but to have confidence in the promised made by the one whom even death will someday bow.

In our passage today, we find Jesus and his disciples encountering the funeral procession for a young man.  When Jesus sees the mother, the Scripture says His heart when out to her.  Other versions say He had compassion on her.  The word used is a word which indicates a strong feeling acted on Jesus.  He felt her pain.

This is an essential truth of the faith I proclaim.  It is the foundation of all true Christian theology.  Our God is a God that cares about humanity.  Our God is a good who can feel compassion, who is moved in his deepest parts by our suffering and our condition.

OK, they why does he not stop it?  How many other mothers lost sons?  How many others have felt the deepest of pain and sorrow and yet God did not come and end their pain.  Why this widow?  Folks, we ask this question out of our own finite-ness.  They cannot be answered by the reason or logic of men.  We question why God does or doesn’t do this or that.  We want God to fit into our understanding, into what we think ought to be without realizing how arrogant we are.  We are like the flea on the back of an elephant who whispers in the elephant’s ear, “boy we make the ground shake when we walk!”

Jesus compassion, his heart going out, is an act of grace, an act of caring.  This woman has not sought him out.  She has not travelled with him.  She does not know him, until that moment and from then on she will never forget him.  She is a widow, this was her only son.  Yes there were people there for the funeral, but in those days, the only future this widow had to look forward to was poverty and more suffering.  Who would care for her?  What kind of hope could she have?

In a way, this woman represents us all.  All of us are going to be hurt by the loss death brings.  All of us hang dangerously on the edge of being alone with no one to care.  We have been very blessed in this country so far, but as the last few years have shown, our comfortable lives can be drastically changed by circumstance beyond our control.

What are we to do when such things come our way?  Are we to cry, scream, or throw a fit?   Do these thing help?  Will they make the problem, the pressure, or the pain go away?  No, they do not.  However, what we can know is that Jesus has made a promise.  He will come to us.  He will go with us.  He can make a difference in our lives.  His brings life, and in his Word there is hope no matter what our situation.

Note what the passage tells us.  Jesus went to her.  He comforts her.  This is the nature of our God.

No, the Lord is not pleased with our sins.  No he is not pleased when our lives are distant from him.  But he is even less pleased when he sees in creation in pain.  He gets no satisfaction from our suffering.  2 Samuel 14:14 tells us: Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.  Did you catch that?  God does not take away our loved ones. The curse does that.  The Fall does that.  This is why God sent Jesus.  This is why we are saved by grace through faith and not by our own works.  This is why we have hope.

I am so thankful that no matter what the circumstances are, I know God cares.  He may not make it rain pennies from heaven or sprinkle twinkle dust to make it all better, but I know He has compassion.  I know his heart goes out to us.  I know he is moved by our plight.  I know he will come to us and he will touch us.  I know he desires to walk with us and will do so if we but ask.  How do I know? I know from experience, from testimony, and from God’s very Word.

Look what happens next!   Jesus goes over to the boy’s lifeless body.  He touches the coffin (this in itself would have been an abomination to the religious leaders of Jesus age).  He speaks to the boy, “Young man, I say to you get up”, and the boy sets up and begins to talk.  Do you think the people are amazed!

There is a story about a preacher who got fired in Alabama for taking the Lord’s name in vain.  It seems that a local fellow died and the preacher was doing the funeral.  The family had requested an open casket during the service.  As the preacher was giving the funeral sermon, the corpse went through what is caused post mortem contractions.  As the preacher was saying, “If Kenneth could set up today and tell us what he now knows”, the corpse suddenly set up.  As the corpse set up the church emptied with the preacher leading the pack screaming, God help me, God help me.

I am sure there was a bit of shock and excitement in Nain that day as well.  We are told there was no panic, only a sense of awe and praise and the knowledge that God had sent someone to do something great for his people.  They were right in this point.  Jesus is the greatest gift God has ever given to humanity.  God has done something great.

When we are down, defeated, depressed, when we are in the times of trouble, when we feel hurt of the heart in the pit of pain of life in a real a way, Jesus comes.  He comes to us with life, he comes to us with a word of hope, he comes to us and says get up.  Jesus gives us back to His Father who sent him to us to do just this.  If you need hope, here it is.