The Dreaded Holiday Schedule
John Lydgate once said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. As a pastor I know this all too well. I often have to make decisions that some people love and other people loathe. The dreaded Holiday service schedule is always one of them. I heard rumbles from people who disapproved of cancelling some services while others were annoyed they have to come to church on Christmas. Sometimes pastors can't win. :)
To the "Why do we have to have church on Christmas!?!" guy - I get it. It throws your holiday routine into chaos. Getting the kids to church on a regular Sunday is hard enough, but with all the hustle and bustle of Christmas morning it's crazy. Yes.Yes it is. However, I would imagine that you've told your child all Christmas season that 'Jesus is the reason for the season' but if you skip church on Sunday because of family obligations, what type of message are you sending? When your kid looks you in the eye and says, "If Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, why did we not go to church?" How will you answer? Parents, show your children the value of Christ by making worship on Christmas a priority. I would encourage you to wake up early on Christmas morning to open gifts, worship as a family @ 11:00, and then for the rest of the day celebrate the blessings of another year with your family and friends.
To the "Why would he cancel services during the holidays!?!" guy - I've been pastor long enough to know that certain times of the year attendance ALWAYS goes down. The Holidays are one of those times. Family and friends are a gift; enjoy them. We are not justified by God on the basis of how faithful we are to attend services when the doors are open. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Not having Wednesday services for a few weeks will not cause anyone mortal peril and cancelling a Sunday Night service will not spell doom for our church. In fact, this is a perfect time to open your home and have people over. Take the next few Wednesday night to have people in your home. Hear their life stories, laugh with them, and pray with them. If you do this you may be surprised how much your relationships grow when you are not worried about your responsibilities at the church. I promise you won't be disappointed when you open your home and open your hearts. Here is the perfect opportunity!
For these reasons and more, we have a 'holiday' worship schedule. I purposefully streamline the services for the holidays because it is a hectic time. The last thing I want to do is make coming to church a drag. This gives you time to rest, love, and enjoy your friends and family. However, I refuse to rob of you the blessing of celebrating the birth of Christ on the Lord's day even if it does make Christmas a bit hectic.
I hope to see you Christmas Morning at 11:00 a.m. to celebrate the advent of our Lord Jesus. It will be a wonderful blessing to celebrate, "Good News of Great Joy that will be for all people!" with you.
p.s. Here is an article by Kevin DeYoung titled, "Don't Cancel Church on Christmas" that went into my thinking and my decision to cut back on the holiday schedule but maintain worship on Christmas.
Soli Deo Gloria
A Wedding Shower Blessing
[This is a devotion that Denise Partyka gave at a wedding shower for Grace Konemann. Denise taught Grace in Sunday School class when she was only 3 years old and had the privilege to watch her grow up into a beautiful young woman ]
What a sweet privilege it is for me to be encouraging you regarding marriage. However, it's a little difficult to wrap my head around the fact we've arrived here so quickly, while it seems only a short time ago that I was teaching you, Haley and Kayla in preschool Sunday School. I have to confess I have felt a bit inadequate finding just the right words of wisdom and encouragement because what do I say to a young woman, regarding marriage, who has been an eyewitness her entire life to such a beautifully faithful God-honoring marriage? Your parents are my heroes in marriage, ministry and this Christian life so this seems full circle for me to be serving you in this way. My hope and prayer is that you will be encouraged, not necessarily by anything newly profound that I have to say but that you will be reminded of God's loving kindness and faithfulness in giving you a husband so while my words maybe inadequate to fully communicate that, Christ certainly is not.
I have chosen 3 words I'd like you to remember and encourage you with:
I'd like to encourage you to have joy: joy in your marriage and joy in our faithful God who grants such sweet gifts. Ps 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Marriage is for the purpose of glorifying God. Enjoy your husband. We know "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Marriage can be such a beautiful expression of this purpose lived out. Have joy in our good God who has given you the gift of a husband. He has given you a partner in this life to walk by your side, not leaving you alone to celebrate life's sweetest joys or to carry the heaviest of burdens alone.
God has expressed the tenderness of His sovereignty in the midst of the rain by bringing Jeff into your life when He did. It's not often that a couple begins their dating relationship under the difficult and painful circumstances that you and Jeff did. Rarely does a first date begin with the young man meeting his date's father for the first time in a hospital room. You have learned quickly the treasure of having a partner to help carry the heaviest of burdens. While I wish so very much your experience would have been different and your dating relationship free of such hard lessons, I rejoice with you over God's faithful provision in your life. There is no question Jeff's strength of character has been proven during such times. As the clouds of grief begin to thin, I trust that God will also give you many moments in your marriage to enjoy your husband in the brightness of the sun. "My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." Psalm 63:5-8
Proverbs 5:18 says, "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth..."
We can understand this to mean 'husband of your youth' as well. As Jeff's wife be his strongest supporter and greatest champion. This will prove to be most helpful as you learn to encourage Jeff especially in his ministry, while there are great and many blessings in serving the body of Christ, some of the greatest in fact, there will come hard disappointments as well. Jeff will need you to be a reliable source of encouragement. Try very hard not fall into the temptation of being critical. Your mom gave me some of the wisest counsel many years ago specifically regarding how to respond to my husband's sermons and it really proves to be good counsel all around. She said there will be plenty of people offering criticism, some helpful and some not unhelpful, but nonetheless criticism. Always find words of encouragement for him. Romans 12:10 says, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor". Make it your practice to outdo Jeff in showing honor. What I know of Jeff and observed in how he loves and serves you this will be a challenging task but you're a woman who seems to be up for a challenge. Be ever mindful that Jeff will be the living image and representative of Christ in your home and being his steadfast champion will allow him the freedom and encouragement to fulfill that role. Therefore, be Jeff's champion!
"Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart" Psalm 119:111. There is a great void with the absence of your Dad, those that knew him and love him feel that void for you and for ourselves. His presence was large so the void is equally as large but in the midst of your grief and tears look to Christ for the source of your joy so that you don't miss the beauty and excitement of this time. I'm fairly certain your Dad would have encouraged you to do the same and I know your Heavenly Father desires it of you. No one, in my opinion, was a more faithful example of having and expressing joy in His savior during great pain and suffering than your father. You have a rich and beautiful heritage, look to it for your inspiration and launching pad for your own marriage and draw your strength and delight in the God who gives good gifts such as marriage.
Gracious Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your goodness and faithfulness expressed in the gift of marriage. Thank you for the years of faithful marriages that Grace can look to for a source of encouragement that are represented in this room today. We thank you for your perfect providence in bringing Grace and Jeff together. Cause Grace to find great joy in being Jeff's wife. May she be a wife that faithfully provides encouragement and support to her husband and may she draw strength and inspiration from the beautiful heritage you have given her from her grandparents and parents. Bless Grace and Jeff with love for one another that flows from their love from Christ and may their home be a home where the conversations drip with the truths of scripture, where the gospel is central and where the name of Christ is glorified. In Christ's name Amen
Denise Partyka ~ December 10, 2016
Soli Deo Gloria
Watch & Pray in the Midst of Matthew
Hurricanes have always fascinated me. The raw power of their wind, the intriguing beauty of satellite photos, and the unpredictability of their path both captivate my attention and impart a sense of awe and wonder. Yet Hurricane Matthew is different. Matthew has his sights set on my home and my church. I have always watched hurricanes from a safe distance inland. Warning cones, wind speed probabilities, and rainfall predictions have always been mere data to be consumed and tracked. Not anymore. Last year we moved to a home at Jax Beach and I pastor a church that sits only a few blocks from the ocean. In the summer time it's a fabulous place to be but in hurricane season...not so much.
Now the people and place that I love are threatened and there is little that I can do. I have followed the evacuation orders of local authorities, gathered supplies for when the power goes out, and prepared the house for the storm. Yet despite my most ardent efforts, Matthew has caused me to feel the weakness of my humanity. The reality is no matter how much I 'prepare' there is little that I can do to change my situation. The only thing we can do it 'watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation' (Matthew 26:41). Yet how often do we do everything but watch and pray? We live in a time of unprecedented technological advancement. God's common grace has gifted man with the technology that has saved millions of lives by providing reliable and early warning of impending dangers. Yet despite all these technological advances, man remains powerless to resist the power of the wind and the rain. Nevertheless, we put our faith in our data, meteorologists, and preparation. We think somehow that the more information we gather, we will enable us to withstand the power and intensity of the storm. We fail to 'watch and pray'. Like Peter in the garden we succumb to the flesh and fail to heed the words of Christ. We wield our puny sword of self reliance against an enemy we are powerless to defeat (not just hurricanes). When scripture calls us to watch and pray it is not calling us to resign ourselves to defeat or swallow the bitter pill of fate. Scripture calls us to trust the maker of heaven and earth, at all times because of who God is. The God to whom we pray to is the God who,'rides on the wings of the wind' (Psalm 104:3). Scripture continually declares that no enemy can compare to the omnipotent power that God wields with precision and wisdom. All things are under His control and all things are guided by His wisdom... even category four hurricanes. David knew the power and promise of our God when he wrote the words of Psalm 18...
"In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked because he was angry...He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew;
I confess that with each update from the National Hurricane Center I grow more and more fearful about our home and the church, while having to work harder to muster up feeble prayers. My fears begin to concoct doomsday scenarios full of 'what ifs...' and 'I don't know what we'll do...". With each faithless fear, I doubt the power and wisdom of the Almighty God. Yet there is a fundamental reminder that is forgotten when I read through the promises of God's power and wisdom. I will not be exempt from hardship. I will not be free from struggle. I will not be free from pain. Just as David throughout his life and reign suffered defeats and disappointments, our enemies will inflict painful blows and stinging harms. However, the temporary pain my enemies inflict cannot short-circuit the security and victory that is found in the God who rides on the wings of the wind. David humbly confessed that his hope was not in his own ability, strength, or wisdom but in the power of the Lord. "This God - his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him" (Psalm 18:30). The promises of God's Word are true because the power of God is infinite and his wisdom is complete. This does not take Him by surprise. He ordains the end and controls the means. God knows how my home and my church will fare against the fury of Matthew. He knows if I will lose everything or nothing. He knows the struggle with evacuations, preparations, and watching from a distance. In His perfect wisdom He knows what I need, when I need it. He knows if my trust in Him is contingent upon my possessions rather than on the wisdom of God. God knows if I need to be taught to put my trust in Him by losing the fleeting things of this earth and the security that my heart craves. I will trust the God of power and wisdom. As I watch I pray that God will do for me what he did for David, to make 'my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze' (Psalm 18:33-34). I pray that God would keep those I love safe in the midst of the storm and train me to battle the fear that my enemies threaten me with. I pray that my heart would faithfully cling to my rock and my refuge during the storm and most importantly...after. God is wise and He is powerful. He knows what He is doing. In the midst of the storm He is teaching His people to put their trust in Him and revealing the futility of trusting anyone or anything but Him. When the rage of Matthew is over and I see the damage he has inflicted I pray that I will trust in the wisdom of the Lord, whatever He may will. In the meantime I will 'watch and pray'.
Soli Deo Gloria
Robert Konemann: 1962-2016
Robert Konemann was a pastor and teacher in Jacksonville, FL and Louisville, KY. He loved the Word of God while living and dying for the glory of a good and sovereign God. May these final words spoken at his memorial service cause us to trust our sovereign God who knows what He is doing. He is not a novice.
Robert was born on October 1, 1962 in the outskirts of Atlanta, GA. Growing up, life was difficult for Robert. To this world Robert was a ‘throw away’ kid. To our heavenly Father he was a precious son, ‘chosen before the foundations of the earth’. Robert’s life bore the inexplicably fingerprints of grace, was guided by the Hand of Providence, and loved by the heart of our Heavenly Father. The journey of His life would take him down many dark valleys before a seemingly frowning Providence. Yet, at every turn it was evident that the grace of God, was guiding and equipping him for his journey. Robert possessed an incredibly fortitude, an unbreakable spirit, and a vivid imagination that would serve him all the days of his life. It was the merciful hand of God that guided his steps even in the darkest days. The hand of Providence was especially seen one cold winter night when Robert was only 10 years old. Driven away by cruel words and heartless punishment he ran away from his home with only a handful of dollar bills. He escaped on a Greyhound bus and hitch-hiked even farther. His aimless journey led him to the bottom of a rock quarry where he collapsed in exhaustion wishing for death. He was a cold, hopeless, and desperate ten-year-old boy. Yet he was not alone. As snow began to fall, God’s hand stirred him to life and moved him to hope. By God’s grace, Robert made his way back home and was given strength to endure the remaining days of his childhood.
Robert’s family moved from Atlanta to Clearwater, Florida and it was there in the Sunshine State where a brilliant ray of light burst into his dark world. Robert found his way to Clearwater Baptist Church and dove in headlong into the youth group. Robert’s youth pastor, Barry Shettel, took Robert under his wing and saw in Robert what no one had ever seen before: character and value. Here Robert’s love for the Word of God began to grow and blossom because someone took the time to love him and value him. The dark clouds of his childhood where beginning to dissipate. Yet that was only the beginning.
One summer afternoon Robert boarded the Youth bus for what he thought was an ordinary day of fun at Six Flags in Atlanta. Little did he know that on that bus he would find a life-time of love. As Robert boarded the bus his eye caught glimpse of the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on; Becky Lapp. It was love at first sight…almost. There was a slight problem. She sat in her seat with a pair of crutches by her side and a broken toe. Inside Robert’s mind a battle raged: hang out with Becky and miss out on the Six flags fun or stay with his buddies and enjoy a day of roller coasters and fried food. He chose Six Flags! Thankfully, this poor choice did not cost him, for on the way home he secured a seat near to Becky. After finding the courage to speak with her he opened up his Bible and read Becky Isaiah chapter 40 and challenged her to memorize Isaiah 40:31. It was Robert’s way of getting a second date…helping Becky memorize scripture. A win-win! It was the beginning of a classic love story.
There have been few love stories written like Robert and Becky’s. Neither Romeo and Juliet, Darcy and Elizabeth, Rhett & Scarlett couldn’t compare with their love. Robert’s love for Becky is enough to last her entire lifetime. He loved her with a passionate affection and unwavering commitment. They were simply meant to be together. However, the first time Robert came to her parent home for a date (‘to memorize scripture’)Dr. and Mrs. Lapp weren’t as convinced. Rather than coming to the door, Robert pulled his car into the driveway and honked the horn. Becky waived to her parents and jumped into the car as Robert squealed the tires as he drove away. Let’s just say it wasn’t the best first impression with the future in-laws. However when Dr. and Mrs. Lapp, spoke with Robert’s youth pastor. Yet, much to their amazement, Barry reassured their anxious hearts, “Of all the young men I have ever known, I would want my daughters to marry a man like Robert.” The rest was history. The Lapps embraced Robert as their own son. Their house was a safe refuge for Robert as he went to High School while working forty hours a week busting concrete. Many nights he would come to the Lapps, eat dinner, and crash on their couch for hours. The Lapp’s home was Robert’s home and in the twilight of their lives Robert repaid their loyalty by giving the Lapps a place in his home. They were parents to him and he was a son to them.
Robert & Becky’s love for one another grew deeper and deeper with every passing day. It was inevitable that they would spend the rest of their lives together. One day in the stairwell of the church Youth building Robert looked at Becky and said, “I’m gonna marry you Becky.” She simply answered, “Duh!” There was never a question that they were destined for each other. On the night of Robert’s high school graduation in Dunedin, FL he brought Becky to Valley’s Steak House and asked her to be his wife. Immediately she said, “Yes!” and then promptly spilled her water all over the table. Hollywood couldn’t write a better story that was unfolding before their eyes. On February 21, 1981 Robert and Becky stood before their friends and family and promised their lives to each other. A promise that was never broken.
The next chapter of their life took place in a tiny trailer on the Westside of Jacksonville. Married life was simple and life was good at the end of Snellgrove Road. Robert tried several different vocations but was never able to find the right fit. He didn’t care where he worked as long as it was Becky he could come home to. She was his life and his love. The love they shared multiplied with five beautiful children: Melissa, Caleb, Grace, Calvin, and Josh. Robert adored being a Father and loved his children well. He set aside Fridays as ‘family day’ and loved to take the family on picnics in the park or down by the beach, feasting Little Debbie’s, Caprice Suns, and Sunkist as they laughed and played. They were simple days. They were special days. Vacations were spent at Stone Mountain and Crooked River with Dr. and Mrs. Lapp. Robert loved the chance to ‘unplug’ from the hustle and bustle of ordinary life and focus on his family. One of the favorite memories that the children cherished was ‘pajama raids’. Robert and Becky would tuck the children into bed and just as they began to fall asleep Robert would rush into their rooms, flip on the lights, and yell, ‘Pajama raids’. The pajama clad children would squeal with delight as they piled into the minivan and headed for ice cream. Life was simple. Life was good.
Holidays were special times for Robert because it provided him an opportunity to express his profound love for his children and to those he held dear. At Christmas he refused to let Becky do the Christmas shopping without him because he always wanted to be apart of finding the perfect gift for each child. On Christmas Eve, the Konemann’s would bake mountains of baked goodies for church members and deliver them to each home. On Christmas mornings before the gifts were unwrapped, he would read the children the Christmas story and give thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ. Robert was deliberate in everything he did. Deliberate to show his love. Deliberate to point his children toward Christ. As the children grew so did Robert’s love for them. Robert loved to watch his children pursue their dreams and found joy in watching them achieve their goals. Whether it was Melissa’s artwork, Caleb’s football, Grace’s dance, Calvin’s cheering, or Josh’s basketball, Robert selflessly would do whatever it took to enable them to pursue their dreams. Robert literally wore holes in his shoes so his kids could have piano lessons, ballet slippers, and football cleats. Robert was selfless and his children held a special place in his heart.
Robert loved Becky. Robert loved his children. Yet above all else Robert loved Christ. Robert’s ministry began as the singles pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church and led him to plant Christ Fellowship. His ministry was marked by a love for the Word of God and a passion for His glory. Robert used his mind for the glory of God and His body for the service of the church. Robert was more than a preacher. He was a friend, brother, teacher, prophet, safety net, and protector. He was there when you needed him. Whether it was physical sickness, the death of a spouse, the loss of a parent, the birth of children, trips to college, marriage counseling, or hospital visits Robert was quick to serve. He became all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. He was a mechanic, builder, mover, teacher, and most of all friend. He taught us the meaning of love simply by his presence in our lives. Robert was there in the significant moments of Denise & my life: rejoicing with us and weeping with us. He performed our marriage counseling, officiated at our wedding, and rejoiced when our children were born. I still remember turning around to see Robert’s face on the other side of the nursery glass the morning Anna was born. He always found time for a pastor visit. I remember all the bbq napkins he scribbled theological phrases and greek words, the stacks of books he pushed aside whenever I stopped by his office to talk, and the rickety ole’ ‘Hooptie’ truck he drove around town with Caleb at shotgun. Robert truly had the heart of a pastor.
If I could sum up Robert’s ministry in one word it would be ‘passion’. It was never God, Family, Church. It was all God…in everything. Robert had an insatiable appetite for the things of the Lord. He loved his Word, he loved his church, and he loved his people. This passion was manifest as his countenance would light up when he spoke of the treasure of the kingdom of God, the fury with which he preached, and the theological firehouse he unleashes when he begins to teach. His prayers resonated as a man who knew God as a friend. Those prayers were a cup of cold water in a dry and thirsty land. Christ Fellowship was led by a man of incredible intellect and an intensely tender heart sold out for Christ.
When the Hand of Providence brought to a close the ministry at Christ Fellowship it was devastating to Robert and Becky and to all who shared its fellowship. It was as if a member of the family had died. Yet the Lord sweetly sustained their hearts with His Word and prepared Robert for the next chapter in this storybook written by the hand of God. The Konemann’s moved to Taylorsville and settled down in their little log cabin on the hill. It was here they said goodbye to his parents and in-laws and they watched the children grow and begin lives of their own. Robert was blessed with a new name: ‘Grandfather’. He loved his little grandsons: Titus, Levi, and Jentezen, who were the apple of his eyes. Robert began working at Southern and once again found purpose and significance in building and creating. However, despite his title of ‘project manager’ he never replaced his former one, ‘pastor’. Robert loved people and loved the gospel. You could never separate him from his pastoral calling. He shared Christ with whoever would listen, no matter how large or small a role they played on campus. With professors he wrestled with weighty theological matters and with employees he tenderly shared the love of Christ where they were. Robert’s faithfulness was seen in how he treated everyone with compassion, love, and respect. Security guards, window contractors, and custodians loved to work with Robert because he treated them as the image bearers of God they were. Robert possessed a genuine love for the gospel that motivated him towards loving his neighbor. Robert was intentional, genuine, and loving in every everything he did. The man he was at home was the man he was in public.
The Hand of Providence once again moved in Robert’s life and led him to Fisherville Baptist Church. Fisherville needed Robert and Robert needed Fisherville. It was at Fisherville where Robert found a place to teach alongside a like-minded partner in ministry, Brian Payne. Robert & Brian shared a pastor’s heart, a love for God’s word, and a shalom that brought balance and perspective to one another’s ministries. They shared a special bond that will last for eternity because it is founded on the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ.
We all watched Robert and witness the promise of scripture to be true. God is faithful though He moves in mysterious ways. Robert was confident that this brain tumor was apart of God’s sovereign plan and will be used for His glory. The words of William Cowper’s hymn faithfully reminded him of God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea; And rides upon the storm. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” The smile of God’s grace never failed him. Robert saddled up the horses in God’s word and rode with courage into a frowning Providence, always trusting the God who holds the universe in His hand. He boldly declared "Our God is not a novice. He knows what he is doing!" Over the last eighteen months Robert’s body slowly began to fail. But His God never did. Morning by morning new mercies Robert saw. Encouraging verses via texts and facebook posts. Daily visits from friends, coworkers, and church members. The laughter of silly jokes. Sugar free strawberry trifle. The Great Hymns of the Faith that soothed his weary soul. But most of all, the faithful love of Becky who never left his side. These were mercies of God poured out lavishly upon Robert as his body was ravished by cancer. Robert would ultimately succumb to cancer but because of the his love for the gospel, death was no longer a cruel taskmaster but rather a humble servant that ushered Robert into the presence of his Master and Lord Jesus Christ. August 1, 2016 was not the end of Robert Konemann. It was the beginning of eternity. The great evangelist D.L. Moody once told his congregation, “Some day you will read in the papers, 'D. L. Moody is dead.' Don't you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.” This couldn’t be more true of Robert. Because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, Robert is alive. Because Jesus Christ took the punishment for his sin on the cross: Robert is alive. Because Robert trust only in the work of Christ by faith: Robert is alive. Because Christ has clothed him with a righteousness that is not his own: Robert is alive.
Soli Deo Gloria
A Gospel Response to Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas
Monday evening my newsfeed was filled with photographs and videos of fireworks, sparklers, and roman candles as our nation celebrated 240 years of Independence. However, the euphoria and gaiety would evaporate almost instantly as FB, Twitter, and news outlets across the country watched in stunned silence as Alton Sterling was pinned to the ground by two police office and suddenly shots were fired. Sterling lay there lifeless and bloody. A few hours later the collective consciousness of our nation was seared as we watched Sterling’s 15-year-old son cry out, “I miss my Dad!” as he sobbed beside his grief stricken mother left to raise five children alone. Our hearts should weep for them. Less than 24 hours later during a routine traffic stop Philando Castile, while he was reaching for his license, was shot four times by a police officer. Millions watched live on Facebook as he moaned, bloodstained, and dying. His fiancée wept as the tiny voice of their four-year-old daughter reassured her, “It’s ok I’m her for you.” Our hearts should weep for them. The black community once again mourning the loss of one of its young men organized a peaceful rally in downtown Dallas in order to protest the black lives lost. However, Micah Johnson, fueled by anger and hate brandished a sniper rifle with the intent of, ‘kill[ing] white people, especially white officers.” In cold blood he ambushed twelve Dallas police officers, killing five. Brent Thompson, 43, married for only two weeks was a father and grandfather. Michael Krol, 40, worked hard to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a police officer. Patrick Zamarripa, 32, was married and the father of a 2 young children. Lorne Ahrens, 48, was a valued co-worker. Michael Smith, 55, was married 17 years and a father of two young boys. Our hearts should weep for them. The prophetic words of Isaiah that showered down on Israel over two and half millennia ago are a stinging indictment on our own country…
“ Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity….Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.” Isaiah 59:1-4,7-8
Throughout the week I watched social media responded with careless indifference to the shootings with thoughtless, flippant, and unloving words. “He should have complied.” “He had a criminal record.” As five officers sacrificed their lives to protect 800 protesters, social media responded with, “They got what they deserved”, “I wish the shooter lived because I’d serve him.” Democrats were pitted against Republicans. Whites were pitted against Blacks. Pro-cop people were pitted against pro-black people. Articles were posted to discredit the claims of the other side. Tweets defiantly declared allegiance to one side with a hashtag and promise that anyone who had the audacity to disagree would be unfriended, unfollowed, or blocked. People smear their opponents and ‘exposed’ their hypocrisy with callous disregard to their plight. We demand justice but we refuse to seek peace. We chastise, criticize, and dehumanize when we should open our hearts and weep for the victims, for the oppressed, and for the broken-hearted. It is no wonder that the words of Isaiah 59:9-13 not only describe ancient Israel but modern day America…
“Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the LORD, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.”
My heart weeps while I watch our society stumble through life desperately groping for something to hold on to. We clamor for 2nd amendment rights, gun control, government regulation and oversight, protests, denial of a problem, body cameras, political power, or even violent revenge. Nothing satisfies. Nothing changes man’s heart. Nothing brings healing. Shootings keep happening. Black men keep dying. Cops are being assassinated. All the while pundits are screaming. Protesters are marching. Children are growing up without fathers. Women are being made widows. Parents are burying their kids. Collectively our country spirals out of control. Isaiah 59:14-15 reads as an epitaph for our nation…
 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
This comes as no surprise in scripture. The Bible testifies that the Almighty God of the universe created heaven and earth for his glory. He created man and women, black and white, Asian & Latino in his own image to reflect his glory in our love and relationships, our work and creativity, our families and societies (Genesis 1:28). Yet the Bible doesn’t whitewash the reality that mankind is fallen into sin, for we have traded the glory of God, wisdom of God, love of God, and the satisfaction of pursing God for 30 shekels of silver. We crave our own selfish pride (Romans 1:23), our own foolish wisdom, our own self love, and the fleeting satisfaction of the pleasures of this world. Sin has not only severed our relationship with God but it has caused us to hate our neighbor rather than love him. It has caused us to be jealous of our neighbor rather than seek his good. Sin has built resentment between genders, walls of hostility between ethnicities, and has deeply scarred our beautiful planet. The stain of sin has seeped into the deepest reaches of our hearts and expresses itself in hate, murder, exploitation, and racism. Rather than seeking the glory of God that brings life, freedom, and satisfaction, ‘every man does what is right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25). This week we watched in horror as seven men bled to death as a result of the sin that has corrupted the hearts of all mankind. As I watched these men died my soul cried out, “How Long, O Lord?” I felt the agony of the Psalmist, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept…” (Psalm 137). For a fleeting moment, I understood the raw emotion of Psalm 137:8, “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall be he who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks!” The words of utter hopelessness. Sheer despair. Unreserved bitterness. I watched in horror as my nation was fragmented by the deep wounds of sin. ‘One nation under God’ erupted in an uncivil war. I starred in silence as I pleaded in my heart, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”
All week I struggled in my head, “Do I address this or not?” “Is there any words that I can say that can bring calm? Any insight that can bring perspective? Any hope that can encourage despairing hearts?” “Will my congregation listen or will they shut me off?” As I sat down at my desk and look at the words of Isaiah 59 beckoned…
 The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives.
There is an answer to the hate, oppression, and sin that mars our world: The Gospel. The Gospel is the only answer to the blight of racism, abuse of power, the senselessness of violence, and the apathy of pride that is tearing our nation apart. Isaiah 59 promises that the Lord Himself will be the one who will deal with the sin that plagues our world and our hearts. Every man and woman will answer for the injustice that plagues our streets, our homes, and our hearts. God will judge sin with zeal. His wrath he will pour out and His vengeance will be unleashed upon his enemies. God is not silent. He will will answer. In chapter 60 the darkness of the world of Isaiah 59 is contrasted with the radiance of the glory of Zion, the promised city of God where He dwells with his people. A city without violence, devastation, or destruction. A city where men will be free of nagging fear. A city where violence will not spontaneously erupt. A city where women will not weep in the streets for their slain husbands. A city where little boys and little girls will not have to watch their Daddy die before their eyes. A city where men and women will not live in the isolation because they fear retaliation. It is for that city I ache…
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Rev 21:1-4
This city is not a distant fantasy. This city is closer than you think. Scripture promises that this city will be inaugurated by an anointed preacher, the Messiah. In fact the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 has already been fulfilled.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;  to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor…”
These are words that Jesus read as he declared that God ha s indeed come to save. To bring freedom and liberty to those in bondage and oppression. Jesus declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The Anointed one has come, Immanuel ‘God with us.” We are not forgotten. We are not alone. Though our sins have cast us from the presence of a holy God, He has not left us to grope in darkness. He has come to us. His love and mercy shines bright in the darkness of our streets, homes, and hearts. He has rescued us from our pride, racism, fear, and rebellion. This is the promise of the Gospel, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Is. 1:18). Brothers and sisters Jesus Christ has come and inaugurate the kingdom of God. A kingdom where the wolf will lay down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the child will play with the cobra. A kingdom where the poor receive justice, the oppressed enjoy freedom, and the lonely will find family. In this kingdom Jew and Gentile will be one. Black and white will live in love and respect. Men and women will thrive in perfect harmony. This kingdom is promised in Ephesians 2:11-22. The hostility that exists between ethnicities and genders has been abolished by the completed work of Christ on the cross. Turn with me to the hope of the Gospel that Ephesians 2:13 declares. [p. 976]
“ But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, God’s promised wrath, once promised for the people of God for their sin, has been absorbed. Those whose put their faith in Christ are now apart are ‘one’ body (vs. 15). Verse 21 tells us that this body is the very temple of God when the Spirit of God dwells. A body whose primary citizenship is in the city of God and are fellow members of the household of God. Black, White, Asian, Latino, Man, Women, Rich, Poor, Educated, and Uneducated. If this is so. If these words are true. How can we cling to the sins of the world that seek to divide us? Why do we continue to treasure the sin that drives a wedge between the body of Christ? Why don’t we do under others that which we want done unto us? These were just a few of the thousands of questions that hung in my mind as I watched violence, bitterness, and apathy rage throughout the news outlets, tv stations, and social media. How long, O Lord?
I believe there is hope. All is not lost. ‘It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin that the gospel shines forth. Not until [sin] has bruised and smitten us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds. Not until [sin] has arrested and imprisoned us will we pine for Christ to set us free.’ (Stott) That kingdom city of Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21 has begun to unfold in the hearts of God’s people. The very first recorded words of Jesus in the book of Mark cry out to our nation, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. We need to remember that we are citizens of the kingdom of God. Our constitution is the Word of God. Our king is Jesus Christ who laid His life down to bring us into the kingdom.
But how does the ethics of a heavenly kingdom influence those of us who live in a 21st century kingdom? Furthermore, what do I know as a middle aged white man who grew up in suburban Connecticut know about what it means to be a black man in America or a police officer on the front lines of law enforcement? To the former: everything. To the latter: nothing at all. But this is what I know…
 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ESV)
As Christians, who been reconciled to God, we are called to further the work of reconciliation. To seek peace and pursue it. To seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. We pray with our Lord, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” As new creations entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation we seek to further the kingdom of heaven here on earth. That is why the gospel matters in Baton Rouge, LA in Falcon Heights, MN and in Dallas, TX. As Christians, we are to live according to an ethic that is driven, not by the values of the kingdom of this world, but by the ethics of the kingdom of heaven. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, mercy, gentleness, and self-control. Our hope is in the gospel, not in the things of this world. Sadly, many who call themselves Christians have resorted to the twisted ethics of the world rather than setting their minds on things above. Therefore, I humbly present four kingdom principles as we seek to promote reconciliation of lost souls to God and seeking God’s kingdom here on earth.
First, all mankind is created in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”(Gen 1:27). How easily we forget this when we bash the president, slander the candidates, and belittle those who don’t share our ideology. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were created in the image of God and therefore their deaths should be mourned not discounted because of their so called ‘criminal record’. Black lives matter because they are image bearers of God. The five police officers who were assassinated by the ‘vicious, calculated, and despicable attack’ (Obama) are mourned because they were image bearers of God. Blue lives matter because they are created in the image of God. The image of God is what gives all life value and should be protected at all costs. The image of God is why we call ourselves, ‘Pro-Life’. We are pro-‘image of God’. Being pro-life doesn’t stop when a child is born. Pro-life means that we seek to protect life inside the womb and work to see life flourish outside the womb. The two are never pitted against each other. It is always ‘both and’ never ‘either or’. The image of God is to be protected from the abortionist’s scalpel, the abuser’s fist, the drug dealer’s syringe, and the brutality of the police officer who abuses the power of the badge. Don’t diminish the image of God in others because of the color of their skin or the color of their uniform. Every human life is precious because it is created in the image of God.
Second, ‘weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). The African American community far too often has to bury the bodies of their husbands, sons, and grandsons far too young. Mourn with them. Some of you know the anguish of burying your child. Weep with them. Black brothers and sisters are hurting but often we are quicker to call their children ‘thugs’ or ‘punks’ and forget that someone calls them ‘Daddy’ or ‘son’. I watched as Philando Castile died in his car. I cried tears of anguish when I heard the voice of his little girl cry out from the back seat. My heart was grieved when the 15-year-old son of Alton Sterling wept on his mother’s shoulder. When we see black men and women hurting it should be the body of Christ that reaches out with love and compassion to comfort rather than prideful apathy that wounds. Likewise, we mourn when the lives of police officers who laid down their life in the line of service, when 49 homosexual men and women are gunned down in a club, when 187 Iraqis are killed by car bombs, and when Bengali Muslims are attacked and murdered while they peacefully prayed. "The Bible exhorts us to weep with those who weep. It doesn't tell us to judge whether they should be weeping” (H.B. Charles) If you cannot mourn with those who mourn I question if we really know the gospel.
Third, ‘be quick to hear, and slow to speak’ these words in James 1:19-20 imparts a kingdom principle that is vital for the task of reconciliation. I do not know what it is like to be a black man in the United States. Therefore, how can I carelessly dismiss the fears and experiences of those my black brothers and sisters? Just because Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Congress ratified the 14th amendment, and the civil rights act of 1964 was passed, the sin of 350 years of rational oppression was not neatly washed away immediately. As a nation we can’t just ‘get over it’. The scars of longstanding injustices take generations to heal and pockets of infection often lie hidden deep below the surface. As a nation we have come so far: We have an African American President, Attorney General, Supreme court justices, and congressmen and senators. Yet weeks like this past week remind us of how far we still have to go. We simply cannot say, “I’m sorry” and move on. We must not be like Job’s foolish friends who did not recognize the immensity of the struggle happening around them and speak, post, or tweat foolish, careless words. Therefore, I would encourage you to sit down with a black brother and sister (and all ethnicities) and ask them about their experience…and listen. Listen to their fears, listen to their dreams, and listen for their hearts. Rejoice with them. Cry with them. Some things they say will make you uncomfortable. Some things will enlighten you. Some things will upset you. Listen anyway. When you are slow to speak, slow to post your FB article, and slow to dismiss someone else’s experience, you will be better equipped to love them well and accomplish the kingdom work of reconciliation.
Finally, the most important kingdom principle is this: Point them to Jesus. To my African American brother, “I don’t know how it feels to be black in America. To be looked upon with distrust and bigotry…but Jesus does. He was reviled but he reviled not in return. Jesus knows the ugliness of racial tension that divided Jews, Samaritans, and Romans. Jesus knows what is means to be falsely accused, lied about, and framed for something that he did not do. Jesus knows the pain of lynching, the agony of beatings, and the ruthlessness of his oppressors. Jesus knows your weakness and he knows how to sympathize with you. Jesus knows all this because he endured all this to save you from your sins. He died to reconcile you to the Father. To make you an heir not a slave. A son not an orphan. An overcomer not a victim. Put your faith in the one who knows your suffering, hardship, and pain. His love is deep, unconditional, and faithful… trust him.
To the many good and decent police officers that keep us safe I don’t know what it feels like to be jeered at, hated, and demonized…but Jesus does. He has experienced the jeers of the crowd, the calls for his execution, and the joy in his pain. He knows the burden of laying his life down for people who do not recognize or appreciate the cost. He knows what it is like to be in isolation and consternation. Jesus knows what it is like to live in a wicked world. I pray that you would trust him with the burden you carry. Trust his wisdom to guide you on your beat, protect you in times of harm, and give you eyes of compassion on a world that in bondage to sin.
Brothers and sisters. Our world is hurting. Our world needs the gospel. As Christians we are called to be agents of reconciliation as we bring the gospel to the nations. May we recognize the image of god in all men, weep with those who weep, be slow to speak and quick to hear, and finally point a hurting world to the only source of lasting hope and heart change; Come quickly, Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria
The Second 'Last Word' of Christ: Luke 23:35-43
To the one side of Jesus hung a desperate criminal whose heart overflowed with anger, bitterness, and rage. “Are you not the Christ?” He demanded for he had heard the fantastic stories that rippled through Jerusalem. Stories that this Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah; the Christ. People claimed he restored sight to the blind, caused the lame to rise and walk, made lepers whole, and opened the ears of the deaf. Even more incredible were stories that by a simple word or the mere touch of his hand the dead were raised to life. This king who preached the good news of the Kingdom of God to the poor now hung beside him, stricken, smitten, and afflicted. This king was humiliated, weak, and hanging naked on a criminal’s cross. Where was his power now? Where were the king’s faithful to defend him? Where was that penetrating voice that chided the self-righteousness and perplexed the indecisive? “Save yourself and us!” He cried in desperation. This criminal felt the pain of his hopeless estate and at this point Jesus was his only ticket out. Yet Jesus just hung there. With every labored breath, every pity filled glance towards his executioners, and every prayer of forgiveness to the Father, the criminal grew more angry, more hostile, and more blasphemous. Jesus was not giving him what he demanded. Jesus, the king, was dying.
To the other side of Jesus hung a second criminal. A guilty, hopeless, wretched criminal. This criminal joined in the chorus of derision hurled at the suffering king as well. Yet as he watched Jesus die, his lips began to fall silent. With every hateful scream the blood-thirsty bystanders threw, arrows of grace began to pierce his wicked heart. He began to see Jesus not as a fraud who needed to prove himself or as some type of supernatural deliverer but as the righteous King of glory who was about to enter his eternal kingdom. He began to see Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords whose condemnation was unjust and whose innocence genuine. As the picture of Christ’s infinite righteousness grew so did the weight of the conviction for his own sin. This criminal cried out to rebuke the other, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man had done nothing wrong.” They deserved this death. Not Jesus. They deserved the words of ridicule. Not Jesus. They deserved the agony of crucifixion. Not Jesus. In the midst of his death sentence the criminal looked at Jesus and uttered the simple plea, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He knew the king who hung beside him was about to enter his kingdom and only by his mercy and grace would be remembered. He could do no acts of righteousness, charity, or faith. He could only confess Christ’s worth and his unworthiness. The criminal’s faith was simple yet profound. Jesus was the Christ. Jesus was the King. Jesus was returning to his eternal throne. Jesus was his only hope for him as he was dying.
Between two criminals the King of Glory hung. His sacred head wounded, his shoulders weighed down by the grief and shame of the sin of the world. Anguish, abuse, and scorn were heaped upon him as his earthly life ebbed away. Yet with eyes full of love he turned toward the criminal and uttered the promise, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” This is grace. Amazing Grace. The Almighty King who laid down his life as an atonement for sin extends his grace to an unworthy criminal. The love of Christ plucks an unworthy sinner from the flames of eternity and ushers him into the eternal fellowship of the Godhead. The perfect unity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the people who are called by His grace. His grace was greater than even the most wretched of sinners.
Brothers and sisters, as our hearts consider the words of the crucified Lord, the promise of the gospel remains today. Look to the cross, see the crucified Lord who was pierced for your transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. The crucified Lord whose chastisements brings us peace and by whose wounds we are healed. He is sovereign. He is exalted. He conquered death with death. He is our only hope in life and death. Turn to Him in faith. Many voices today still scream blasphemies at the crucified King, for his death is foolishness to them. They require He perform signs and wonders. They expect Jesus to answer to their beck and call. Yet when he fails to indulge their demands their blasphemies intensify. However, those who see Christ’s holiness and their own sinfulness and turn to Christ in faith are those who have received the grace of God. May our hearts each day turn away from our sin and turn to Christ by faith that we may be with Christ in paradise.
This meditation will be given as a part of the Good Friday "Last Words of Jesus" at the Beaches Museum Chapel led by David Ball of Church of Our Savior, Allen Cagle of Sunrise Community Church, and Chris Partyka of Ocean Park Baptist Church. The service will begin on Good Friday, (March 25, 2016) at 12:00 p.m. at 505 Beach Blvd. All are welcome!
Soli Deo Gloria